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"There are few names which fall with 
a pleasanter sound upon the ears of 
those who adopt authors as friends than 
the name of Mary Russell Mitford." 



The centre design in the binding represents 
a French gold enamelled watch which be- 
longed to Mrs. Mitford and -was inherited 
by her daughter. The original is in fhf 
possession of the Misses Lovejoy, 



THE more we study the life and character of 
Mary Russell Mitford the more we become 
attached to her, for we come under the influence 
of a nature that seems to radiate peace and 
good-will upon all who surround her. 

' The pleasant compelled enjoyment of her 
tales," writes Harriet Martineau, " is ascribable 
no doubt to the flow of good spirits and kindli- 
ness that lighted up and warmed everything 
that her mind produced." And if we seek for 
a further reason, surely it is to be found, as 
another writer observes, " in their strong rural 
flavour. They breathe the air of the hay-fields 
and the scent of the hawthorn boughs. There 
is nothing artificial about them, nothing of the 
conventional pastoral. They are native and to 
the manner born." 

Here is an example that occurs in a letter to 
a friend, written long before her printed works 
appeared. Speaking of a walk in the Berkshire 
meadows on a spring morning, she says : " Oh, 

Mary Russell Mitford 

how beautiful they were to-day, with all their 
train of callow goslings, and frisking lambs, and 
laughing children chasing the butterflies that 
floated like animated flowers in the air ! ... 
How full of fragrance and of melody ! It is 
when walking in such scenes, listening to the 
mingled notes of a thousand birds and inhaling 
the mingled perfume of a thousand flowers that 
I feel the real joy of existence." 

Many writers have imitated Miss Mitford's 
style since the " tales " of Our Village first 
took the reading world by surprise nearly a 
hundred years ago ; but none of those writers, 
in my opinion, possess her potent charm, nor 
do they possess her wonderful power of making 
her readers see nature, as it were, through her 
eyes and grasp the beauty and poetry of rural 

Mary as a child was shy and silent before 
strangers, but withal very observant. Writing 
of the impressions made upon her mind by some 
of the French Emigre coteries with which she 
had come in contact, she says : " In truth they 
formed a motley group [whose] contrasts and 
combinations were too ludicrous not to strike 
irresistibly the fancy of an acute observing girl 
whose perception of the ludicrous was rendered 



keener by the invincible shyness which con- 
fined the enjoyment entirely to her own 

But is it not to the experiences gained by 
such quiet, shy children as herself and Char- 
lotte Bronte that we owe much of our know- 
ledge of life and its surroundings ? It is the 
listeners not the talkers that can hand down 
this knowledge to us. 

Miss Mitford's talents were varied, and we 
owe to her pen some stirring dramas which 
were performed with much eclat on the London 
stage, and in which John Kemble and Macready 
took the leading parts. The public were as- 
tonished to learn that it was a gentle lady 
living in a remote Berkshire village who was 
thus moving the great London audiences. 

A shrewd American critic of the day remarks : 
" In all these plays there is strong, vigorous 
writing masculine in the free unhashed use 
of language but wholly womanly in its purity 
from coarseness or licence and in the inter- 
mixture of those incidental touches of softest 
feeling and finest observation which are peculiar 
to the gentler sex/' 

It has been said of Miss Mitford by one who 
knew her that " as a letter-writer she has 

Mary Russell Mitford 

rarely been surpassed, and that her correspond- 
ence, so full as it is of point in allusions, so full 
of anecdote and of recollections, will be con- 
sidered among her finest writings/' Even her 
hasty notes, we are told, " had a relish about 
them quite their own." It is interesting to find 
the views she herself entertained on the subject 
of letter- writing as given in her Recollections of 
a Literary Life. It runs as follows : " Such is 
the reality and identity belonging to letters, 
written at the moment and intended only for 
the eye of a favourite friend, that probably any 
genuine series of epistles were the writer ever 
so little distinguished would . . . possess the 
invaluable quality of individuality which so 
often causes us to linger before an old portrait 
of which we know no more than that it is a 
Burgomaster by Rembrandt or a Venetian 
Senator by Titian. The least skilful pen when 
flowing from the fulness of the heart . . . shall 
often paint with as faithful and life-like a touch 
as either of those great masters." 

Mary Russell Mitford's friends were numerous, 
both here in England and on the other side of 
the Atlantic, and her sympathies were as wide 
as the great ocean that lies between us. She 
writes in later life : "I love poetry and people 


as well at sixty as I did at sixteen, and can never 
be sufficiently grateful to God for having per- 
mitted me to retain the two joy-giving faculties 
of admiration and sympathy by which we are 
enabled to escape from the consciousness of our 
own infirmities into the great works of all ages 
and the joys and sorrows of our immediate 

This sunny nature which was unembittered 
by severe trials speaks to us in all the stories of 
Our Village, and it spread such a halo about 
the scenes therein described that little Three 
Mile Cross the prototype of Our Village 
became in time a resort of pilgrims from far 
and near, among whom were some of the finest 
spirits of the age. All longed to gaze upon the 
.cottage in which Mary Russell Mitford had 
dwelt, and to sit in the small parlour whose 
window looks down upon the village street, 
where she had written the stories so dear to 
her readers. 

Happily the cottage itself, with the little 
general shop on one side and the village inn on 
the other, are still so much what they were in 
her day that the long space of time that has 
rolled by since her room was left vacant seems 
to vanish, and as we enter the front door we 

Mary Russell Mitford 

almost expect to see the small figure of the 
" lady of Our Village " coming down the narrow 
stairs to welcome us. 


Before closing this Preface I would express 
my gratitude to Lord Treowen, Mr. and Mrs. 
Alfred Palmer, Mr. F. Cowslade, Mr. W. May, 
the Misses Lovejoy, and Mr. J. J. Cooper, for 
permission to reproduce valuable portraits and 
relics, and for other kind help. 



August, 1919. 








VII. A FLIGHT . . . . . . .52 







XIV. A ROYAL VISIT . . . . . . IIO 






XX. THREE MILE CROSS . . . . . l6l 

XXI. THE NEW HOME . . . . . .179 





Mary Russell Mitford 


XXV. A NEW PLAYWRIGHT . . . . .221 

XXVI. " RIENZI " ....... 230 



XXIX. UFTON COURT ...... 260 





XXXV. A LONDON WELCOME . . . . .328 








Portrait of Mary Russell Mitford. (By A. Burt, taken in 

1836) ........ Frontispiece 

Grove Cottage, Frognal, Hampstead . . . 'Preface x 

The Mitfords' house in Broad Street, Alresford ... 3 

Antique girandole 

Mary Russell Mitford's birthplace . . . . 1 1 

Mary Russell Mitford at the age of four years. (After a 

miniature} To face 16 

The Cross-house . . . 21 

Southampton Street, Reading . . . . . 24 

The " Walk " by the sea, Lyme Regis . . . . *. 31 

The Great House, Lyme Regis 35 

Old ironwork 39 

The panelled chamber 41 

The drawing-room 47 

Blackfriars Bridge in 1796 52 

Dr. Mitford's house in the London Road, Reading To face 58 

Antique ironwork ......... 65 

Hans Place in 1798 69 

Ceiling decoration (1714) . 81 

A purse-bag 91 

A skit on the " Pink of the mode "... To face 92 
A quaint tea-set . . . . . . . . .100 

Gosfield Hall To face no 

Le Comte d'Artois (afterwards Charles X) . . To face 112 
The Dining-room in the Deanery, Bocking . . . .115 

Dr. Valpy's school To face 122 

Country cottages .... .... 143 

Bertram House ......... 147 

Inlaid tea-caddy 160 

The Mitforcls' cottage in Three Mile Cross .... 163 


Mary Russell Mitford 


The village shop .... ... 169 

The Swan Inn .173 

A country wheelbarrow i?8 

Miss Mitford's writing-parlour 181 

The wheelwright's workshop . . . 185 

Fragment of the Silchester Roman wall . . . .189 

Where the curate lodged 193 

The curate's parlour .197 

An old Berkshire farm 213 

Frith Street, Soho Square .225 

Old houses in Great Queen Street . ... 233 

A French bonbonniere 249 

The West Gate, Southampton . . . . . .251 

Pulteney Bridge, Bath 254 

Arabella Fermor as a child. {After a picture in the possession 

of Frederick Cowslade, Esq.} . . . . .259 

The Porch, Ufton Court 261 

Arabella Fermor, the " Belinda" of the " Rape of the Lock," 
afterwards Mrs. Perkins. {From a painting by W. ^ykes 
in the possession of Lord Treoweri) . . To face 262 
Francis Perkins. (By W. Sykes, from a painting also in the 

possession of Lord Treovueri) . . . . To face 262 

Belinda's parlour 265 

The garden steps 267 

A dandy of the period 291 

An old shoeing forge 297 

A bridge on the Loddon 303 

In Aberleigh (Arborfield) Park . . . . . 307 

Dr. Mitford. {From a painting by John Lucas in the possession 

of W. May, hsq.) 1 o face 330 

Ironwork in the balcony of Sergeant Talfourd's house . 338 
Verses by M. R. Mitford written in a friend's album 

(facsimile] To face 344 

Old house near Swallowfield '355 

A teapot which belonged to M. R. Mitford .... 359 
M. R: Mitford's last home at Swallowfield .... 363 
Swallowfield Church 380 





IN a sunny corner of Hampshire there lies the 
tiny historic town of Alresford on the gentle 
slopes of a hill, at whose feet flows the little 
river Arle which gives its name to the place. 
" A town so small that but for an ancient 
market very slenderly attended, nobody would 
have dreamt of calling it anything but a village/' 
And yet, oddly enough, in this same place great 
dignity was united with rustic simplicity, for 
the living of " Old " Alresford was one of the 
richest in England, and was held by the Bishop 
of Exeter in conjunction with his very poor see. 
The Post Office was formerly installed in a 
very small room with nothing but a letter-box 
in the window; still, it had its importance, 
being at the head of many others scattered over 
the country-side. 

Alresford was the birthplace of one who loved 
nature as few have loved her, and whose writ- 
ings " breathe the air of the hay-fields and the 
scent of the hawthorn boughs," and seem to 

Mary Russell Mitford 

waft to us " the sweet breezes that blow over 
ripened cornfields or daisied meadows." 

The name of Mary Russell Mitford the 
author of Our Village is dear to thousands of 
readers, both English and American, for she 
has enabled them to see nature with her eyes 
and to enter into the very spirit of rural 

Alresford is built on the plan of the letter 
T, at the top of which stands the old church ; 
Broad Street being the perpendicular stem, 
traversed by East Street and West Street, 
which form the cross-bar. 

Supposing that we are coming up from the 
valley below where we have left behind us the 
winding river with its old mill, we enter the 
lower end of Broad Street that picturesque 
street with its raised footpaths on either side 
bordered by trees, and its low, irregular houses, 
dominated at the upper end by the grey tower 
of the old church. That dignified looking house 
on the right-hand side, with its hooded door- 
way and its tall windows, belonged to Dr. 

Here it was that the doctor started a prac- 
tice soon after his marriage with Miss Russell, 
the only child and heiress of the late Dr. Russell, 
Rector of Ashe, and here, on the i6th December, 
1787, Mary, also an only child, was born. 

An Author's Birthplace 

" A pleasant house in truth it was," she 
writes. " The breakfast-room . . . was a lofty 
and spacious apartment literally lined with 
books, which, with its Turkey carpet, its glow- 
ing fire, its sofas and its easy-chairs, seemed, 
what indeed it was, a very nest of English com- 
fort. The windows opened on a large old- 
fashioned garden, full of old-fashioned flowers 
stocks, roses, honeysuckles and pinks ; and 
that again led into a grassy orchard, abounding 
with fruit trees. . . . 

" What a playground was that orchard ! and 
what playfellows were mine ! My maid Nancy 
with her trim prettiness, my own dear father, 
handsomest and cheerfullest of men, and the 
great Newfoundland dog Coe, who used to lie 
down at my feet as if to invite me to mount 
him, and then to prance off with his burthen, 
as if he enjoyed the fun as much as we did ! . . . 
How well I remember my father's carrying me 
round the orchard on his shoulder, holding fast 
my little three-year-old feet, whilst the little 
hands hung on to his pig-tail, which I called 
my bridle ; hung so fast, and tugged so heartily, 
that sometimes the ribbon would come off 
between my fingers and send his hair floating 
and the powder flying down his back ! . . . 
Happy, happy days ! It is good to have the 
memory of such a childhood ! ' 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Miss Mitford writes on another occasion : 
" In common with many only children, I 
learnt to read at a very early age. My 
father would perch me on the breakfast-table 
to exhibit my only accomplishment to some 
admiring guest, who admired all the more 
[from my being] a small puny child, gifted with 
an affluence of curls [who] might have passed 
for the twin sister of my own great doll. On 
the table was I perched to read some Foxite 
newspaper, Courier or Morning Chronicle, the 
Whiggish oracles of the day. ... I read lead- 
ing articles to please the company ; and my 
dear mother recited ' The Children in the Wood ' 
to please me. This was my reward, and I looked 
for my favourite ballad after every performance, 
just as the piping bull-finch that hung in the 
window looked for his lump of sugar after going 
through ' God save the King/ The two cases 
were exactly parallel/' 

We have sat in the very room where this scene 
took place. Little is changed there, and we 
stepped from its windows " opening down to 
the ground " into the garden. A narrow foot- 
path, bordered by greensward, led to a small 
flagged courtyard, flanked on one side by a 
quaint old brew-house, with its red-tiled roof 
and peaked windowed centre. Then, passing 
through a wicket-gate, we found ourselves in 


An Author's Birthplace 

the " large old-fashioned garden/' itself gay 
with flowers as of yore. 

An adjoining house has arisen, since the Mit- 
fords lived in their house more than a hundred 
years ago, but this building has in its turn 
grown old, so that it does not mar the character 
of the place. 

Beyond the garden lay the orchard, now used 
as a tennis lawn, but still happily surrounded 
by trees, through whose boughs peeps of the 
sweet surrounding country can be seen. In- 
deed Alresford is entirely encircled by the 
country, and its three only streets Broad 
Street, East Street, and West Street lead 
straight into it. Miss Mitford, describing the 
views on either side of their grounds, says that 
to the south rose the " picturesque church with 
its yews and lindens, and beyond it a down as 
smooth as velvet, dotted with rich islands of 
coppice, hazel, woodbine and hawthorn " ; 
while down in the valley " gleamed a bright, 
clear lakelet radiant with swans and water- 
lilies, which the simple townsfolk were content 
to call the ' Great Pond/ " 

Dr. Mitford's house must indeed have been 
a " pleasant home " for a child, with its garden 
and orchard for a playground behind the house, 
and, in front, its cheerful view of the village 
street with its ever-changing scenes of passing 


Mary Russell Mitford 

horsemen and carts, or of herds of sheep and 
cattle driven to market. 

Here Mary first learnt, though unconsciously, 
to enjoy the beauties of nature and to enter 
into the simple pleasures of village life. 


THE market of old days used to be held in an 
open space where East Street and West Street 
meet, near to the Bell Inn, whose gilded sign, 
in the form of a bas-relief, is displayed over its 

Here we can fancy the little Mary being taken 
to see the gay booths with their display of toys 
or of ginger-bread, and the sheep or pigs in 

Miss Mitf ord was warmly attached to the place 
of her birth, and often alludes to it, but usually 
under the pseudonym of " Cranley." 

" One of the noisiest inhabitants/' she writes, 
" of the small, irregular town of Cranley, in 
which I had the honour to be born, was a certain 
cobbler by name Jacob Giles. He lived exactly 
over-right our house in a little appendage to the 
baker's shop. ... At his half-hatch might he 
be seen stitching and stitching, with the peculiar, 
regular two-handed jerk proper to the art of 
cobbling, from six in the morning to six at 


Mary Russell Mitford 

night. . . . There he sat with a dirty red 
night-cap over his grizzled hair, a dingy waist- 
coat and old blue coat, darned, patched and 
ragged, and a greasy leathern apron. . . . 

" The face belonging to this costume was 
rough and weather-beaten, deeply lined and 
deeply tinted of a right copper colour, with a 
nose that would have done honour to Bardolph, 
and a certain indescribable half-tipsy look, even 
when sober. Nevertheless the face, ugly and 
tipsy as it was, had its merits. . . . There was 
good humour in the half-shut eye, the pursed- 
up mouth and the whole jolly visage. . . . 
There he sat in that small den, looking some- 
thing like a thrush in a goldfinch's cage, and 
singing with as much power and far wider range 
albeit his notes were hardly as melodious 
Jobson's songs in the ' Devil to Pay ' and ' A 
cobbler there was, and he lived in a stall, which 
served him for parlour, for kitchen and hall ' 
being his favourites. 

" . . . Poor as he was Jacob Giles had always 
something for those poorer than himself ; would 
share his scanty dinner with a starving beggar, 
and his last quid of tobacco with a crippled 
sailor. The children came to him for nuts and 
apples, for comical stories and droll songs ; the 
very"curs ofjthe street knew that they had a 
friend in the poor/cobbler. 



Happy Memories 

" For my own part I can recollect Jacob Giles 
as long as I can recollect anything. He made 
the shoes for my first doll (pink I remember 
they were) a doll called Sophie, who had the 
misfortune to break her neck by a fall from 
the nursery window. Jacob Giles mended all 
the shoes of the family, with whom he was a 
universal favourite. ... He used to mimic 
Punch for my amusement, and I once greatly 
offended the real Punch by preferring the 
cobbler's performance of the closing scene/' 

Writing in after years, Miss Mitford remarks : 
' Where my passion for plays began it is diffi- 
cult to say. Perhaps at the little town of 
Alresford, when I was somewhat short of four 
years old, and was taken by my dear father to 
see one of the greatest tragedies of the world 
set forth in a barn. Even now I have a dim 
recollection of a glimmering row of candles 
dividing the end which was called the stage 
from the part which did duty as pit and boxes, 
of the black face and the spangled turban, of 
my wondering admiration, and the breathless 
interest of the rustic audience." 

Among some of her happiest recollections of 
early childhood were her rides on horseback 
with her father. " This dear papa of mine," 
she writes, " whose gay and careless temper all 
the professional etiquette of the world could 


Mary Russell Mitford 

never tame into the staid gravity proper to a 
doctor of medicine, happened to be a capital 
horseman, and abandoning the close carriage 
almost wholly to my mother used to pay his 
country visits on a favourite blood mare, whose 
extreme docility and gentleness tempted him 
into having a pad constructed, perched upon 
which I might occasionally accompany him, 
when the weather was favourable and the dis- 
tance not too great. 

" A groom, who had been bred up in my 
grandfather's family, always attended us, and I 
do think that both Brown Bess and George liked 
to have me with them almost as well as my 
father did. The old servant, proud, as grooms 
always are, of a fleet and beautiful horse, was 
almost as proud of my horsemanship, for I, 
cowardly enough, Heaven knows, in after years, 
was then too young and too ignorant for fear 
if it could have been possible to have any sense 
of danger when strapped so tightly to my 
father's saddle, and enclosed so fondly by his 
strong and loving arm. Very delightful were 
those rides across the breezy Hampshire downs 
on a sunny summer morning ! ' 



IN one of Miss Mitford's tales entitled A 
Country Barber she describes a humble neigh- 
bour whose tiny shop adjoined their own 
" handsome and commodious dwelling." This 
tiny shop has long since disappeared, having 
given place to the " adjoining house " already 

" The barber's shop/' we are told, " consisted 
of a low-browed cottage with a pole before it, 
and a half -hatch always open, through which 
was visible a little dusty hole where a few wigs, 
on battered wooden blocks, were ranged round 
a comfortable shaving chair. There was a 
legend over the door in which ' William Skinner, 
wig-maker, hairdresser, and barber ' was set 
forth in yellow letters on a blue ground." 

After speaking of her happy early recollec- 
tions of " Will Skinner," Miss Mitford remarks : 
" So agreeable indeed is the impression which 
he has left in my memory that I cannot help 
regretting the decline and extinction of a race 


Mary Russell Mitford 

which, besides figuring so notably in the old 
novels and comedies, formed so genial a link 
between the higher orders of society, supplying 
to the rich the most familiar of followers and 
most harmless of gossips/' 

How vividly these words recall to our mind 
Sir Walter Scott's old Caxon the barber and 
familiar follower of Mr. Oldbuck, " who was 
accustomed to bring to his patron each morning 
along with the powder and pomatum his ver- 
sion of the politics or the gossip of the neigh- 

" ' Heeh, sirs ! ' he exclaims, ' nae wonder the 
commons will be discontent, when they see 
magistrates, and bailies, and deacons, and the 
provost himsell wi' heads as bald and as bare 
as one o' my blocks ! ' 

" It certainly was not Will Skinner's beauty/' 
writes Mary Mitford, " that caught my fancy. 
His person was hardly of the kind to win a 
lady's favour, even although that lady were 
only four years of age. . . . Good old man ! I 
see him in my mind's eye at this moment : lean, 
wrinkled, shabby, poor, slow of speech, and 
ungainly of aspect, yet pleasant to look at and 
delightful to recollect. It was the overflowing 
kindness of his temper that rendered Will 
Skinner so general a favourite. Poor he was 
certainly and lonely, for he had been crossed 


From ft miniature 

Village Neighbours 

in love in his youth, and lived alone in his little 
tenement, with no other companions than his 
wig blocks and a tame starling. ' Pretty com- 
pany ' he used to call them. 

" His fortunes had at one time assumed a 
more flourishing aspect when the Bishop of 
Exeter and Rector of Alresford had employed 
him to superintend the ' posting ' of his wig, 
and had also promoted him to the posts of 
sexton and of deputy parish clerk. But on the 
death of the Bishop, and on the advent of the 
French Revolution, when cropped heads came 
into fashion and powder and hairdressing went 
out, poor Will found himself nearly at his wit's 
end. In this dilemma he resolved to turn his 
hand to other employments, and, living in the 
neighbourhood of a famous trout stream, he 
applied himself to the construction of artificial 

' This occupation he usually followed in his 
territory the churchyard, a place . . . occupy- 
ing a gentle eminence by the side of Cranley 
Down a down on which the cricketers of that 
cricketing country used to muster two elevens 
for practice, almost every fine evening, from 
Easter to Michaelmas. Thither Will, who had 
been a cricketer himself in his youth, and still 
loved the wind of a ball, used to resort on 
summer afternoons, perching himself on a large 

c 17 

Mary Russell Mitford 

square raised monument, a spreading lime tree 
above his head, Izaak Walton before him, and 
his implements of trade at his side. There he 
sat, now manufacturing a cannon-fly, and now 
watching Tom Taylor's unparagoned bowling. 

" On this spot our intimacy commenced. A 
spoilt child and an only child, it was my delight 
to escape from nurse and nursery and to follow 
everywhere the dear papa, [even] to the cricket 
ground, in spite of all remonstrance, causing 
him no small perplexity as to how to bestow me 
in safety during the game. Will and the 
monument seemed to offer exactly the desired 
refuge, and our good neighbour readily con- 
sented to fill the post of deputy nursery-maid 
for the time, assisted in his superintendence by 
our very beautiful and sagacious black New- 
foundland dog called Coe. . . . 

" Poor dear old man, what a life I led him ! 
now playing at bo-peep on one side of the 
great monument and now on the other ; now 
crawling away amongst the green graves ; now 
gliding round before him, and laughing up in 
his face as he sat. . . . How he would catch 
me away from the very shadow of danger if a 
ball came near ; and how often did he interrupt 
his own labours to forward my amusement, 
sliding from his perch to gather lime branches 
to stick in Coe's collar, or to collect daisies, 


Village Neighbours 

buttercups, or ragged-robins to make what I 
used to call daisy-beds for my doll." 

Here is another pretty incident of the Aires- 
ford life recorded by Miss Mitford. 

" Before we left Hampshire/' she writes, " my 
maid Nancy married a young farmer, and 
nothing would serve her but I must be brides- 
maid. And so it was settled. 

" I remember the whole scene as if it were 
yesterday ! How my father took me himself 
to the churchyard gate, where the procession 
was formed, and how I walked next to the young 
couple hand-in-hand with the bridegroom's 
man, no other than the village blacksmith, a 
giant of six feet three, who might have served 
as a model for Hercules. Much trouble had he 
to stoop low enough to reach down to my hand, 
and many were the rustic jokes passed upon the 
disproportioned pair. . . . 

" In this order, followed by the parents on 
both sides, and a due number of uncles, aunts 
and cousins, we entered the church, where I 
held the glove with all the gravity and import- 
ance proper to my office ; and so contagious is 
emotion that when the bride cried, I could not 
help crying for company. But it was a love- 
match, and between smiles and blushes Nancy's 
tears soon disappeared, and so did mine. The 
happy husband helped his pretty wife into her 


Mary Russell Mitford 

own chaise-cart, my friend the blacksmith lifted 
me in after her, and we drove gaily to the large, 
comfortable farm-house where her future life 
was to be spent. 

" The bride was [soon] taken to survey her 
new dominions by her proud bridegroom, and 
the blacksmith, finding me, I suppose, easier to 
carry than to lead, followed close upon their 
steps with me in his arms. 

11 Nothing could exceed the good nature of 
my country beau ; he pointed out bantams and 
pea-fowls, and took me to see a tame lamb and 
a tall, staggering calf, born that morning ; but 
for all that I do not think I should have sub- 
mitted to the indignity of being carried if it 
had not been for the chastening influence of a 
little touch of fear. Entering the poultry yard 
I had caught sight of a certain turkey-cock, who 
erected that circular tail of his, and swelled out 
his deep red comb and gills after a fashion 
familiar to that truculent bird, but which up to 
the present hour I am far from admiring. . . . 

" [At last] we drew back to the hall, a large 
square bricked apartment, with a beam across 
the ceiling and a wide yawning chimney, where 
many young people being assembled, and one 
of them producing a fiddle, it was agreed to have 
a country dance until dinner should be ready, 
the bride and bridegroom leading off, and I 
following with the bridegroom's man. 


Village Neighbours 

" Oh ! the blunders, the confusion, the merri- 
ment of that country dance ! No two people 
attempted the same figure ; few aimed at any 
figure at all ; each went his own way ; many 
stumbled, some fell, and everybody capered, 
laughed and shouted at jonce ! ' 



TOWARDS the end of the year 1791, before 
the little Mary had become quite four years 
old, a change came over the fortunes of the 

Dr. Mitford, in spite of some really good 
qualities, was of a careless and thoughtless dis- 
position as regards money matters, and was, 
unhappily, addicted to games of chance. " He 
had the misfortune," writes his daughter, " to 
be the best whist player in England," and like 
the celebrated Mr. Micawber and so many of 
his class, he had an unchanging faith in his own 
" good luck," and felt confident that however 
dark the horizon might be something would 
turn up to his advantage. " Dr. Mitford," 
remarks a shrewd writer, " belonged to that 
class of impecunious individuals who seem to 
have been born insolvent." 

He had come into possession of a large for- 
tune on his marriage, for his bride-elect had 
refused to have any ^settlement made concerning 


Early Life in Reading 

property under her own control, and this for- 
tune had already nearly melted away. 

In spite, however, of all his thoughtless ex- 
travagance, from which both wife and child 
suffered severely, they remained at all times 
devoted to him. As she grew older Mary could 
not shut her eyes to her father's faults ; but 
she loved him in spite of them, dwelling con- 
stantly in her writings upon his invariable kind- 
ness to her as a child, which claimed, she con- 
sidered, her lasting gratitude. " He possessed 
indeed/' she remarks, " every manly and 
generous quality, excepting that which is so 
necessary in this workaday world the homely 
quality called prudence. " 

On leaving Alresford, where many of their 
valued possessions had to be sold, the little 
family removed to a house in Southampton 
Street, Reading, where the doctor hoped to 
establish a practice. This street, which crosses 
the river Kennet by a stone bridge, has still an 
old-world appearance, with its modest-looking 
dwelling-houses and its old-fashioned inns ; 
while high above its roofs rises the spire of the 
old church of St. Giles. 

It is in connection with this very church that 
we have a pleasant glimpse of the little Mary 
from the pen of Mrs. Sherwood, then a young 
girl living in Reading. " I remember," she 


Mary Russell Mitford 

writes, " once going to a church in the town, 
which we did not usually attend, and being 


taken into Mrs. Mitford's pew, where I saw the 
young authoress, Miss Mitford, then about four 


Early Life in Reading 

years old. Miss Mitford was standing on the seat, 
and so full of play that she set me on to laugh 
in a way which made me thoroughly ashamed." 

Writing of this same period in after life, 
Mary Mitford says : " It is now about forty 
years since I, a damsel scarcely so high as the 
table on which I am writing, and somewhere 
about four years old, first became an inhabitant 
of Belford Regis " (her name for Reading), 
" and really I remember a great deal not worth 
remembering concerning the place, especially 
our own garden and a certain dell on the Bristol 
road to which I used to resort for primroses." 

It was during this first residence in Reading, 
when she was still a small child, that she saw 
London for the first time. 

" Business called my father thither in the 
middle of July/' she writes, " and he suddenly 
announced his intention of driving me up in his 
gig (a high open carriage holding two persons), 
unencumbered by any other companion, male 
or female. George only, the old groom, was 
sent forward with a spare horse over-night to 
Maidenhead Bridge, and, the dear papa con- 
forming to my nursery hours, we dined at Crau- 
ford Bridge . . . and reached Hatchett's Hotel, 
Piccadilly (the New White Horse Cellar of the 
old stage-coaches), early in the afternoon. . . . 

" I had enjoyed the drive past all expression, 

Mary Russell Mitford 

chattering all the way, and falling into no other 
mistakes than those common to larger people 
than myself of thinking that London began at 
Brentford, and wondering in Piccadilly when the 
crowd would go by ; and I was so little tired 
when we arrived that, to lose no time, we 
betook ourselves that night to the Haymarket 
Theatre, the only one then open. I had been 
at plays in the country, in a barn in Hampshire 
. . . but the country play was nothing to the 
London play a lively comedy with the rich 
caste of those days one of the comedies that 
George III enjoyed so heartily. I enjoyed it as 
much as he, and laughed and clapped my hands 
and danced on my father's knee, and almost 
screamed with delight, so that a party in the 
same box, who had begun by being half angry 
at my restlessness, finished by being amused 
with my amusement. 

' The next day, my father, having an appoint- 
ment at the Bank, took the opportunity of 
showing me St. Paul's and the Tower. 

"At St. Paul's I saw all the wonders of the 
place, whispered in the whispering gallery, and 
walked up the tottering wooden stairs, not into 
the ball itself but to the circular balustrade of 
the highest gallery beneath it. I have never 
been there since, but I can still recall most 
vividly that wonderful panorama ; the strange 


Early Life in Reading 

diminution produced by the distance, the toy- 
like carriages and horses, and men and women 
moving noiselessly through the toy-like streets. 
. . . Looking back to that [scene] what strikes 
me most is the small dimensions to which the 
capital of England was then confined. When I 
stood on the topmost gallery of St. Paul's I saw 
a compact city spreading along the river, it 
is true, from Billingsgate to Westminster, but 
clearly defined to the north and to the south, 
the West-End beginning at Hyde Park on the 
one side and the Green Park on the other. Then 
Belgravia was a series of pastures and Pad- 
dington a village. 

" We proceeded to the Tower, that place so 
striking by force of contrast . . . the jewels 
and the armoury glittering . . . amidst the 
gloom of the old fortress and the stories of 
great personages imprisoned, beheaded, buried 
within its walls ; a dreary thing it seemed to 
be a queen ! But at night I went to Astley's, 
and I forgot the sorrows of Lady Jane Grey and 
Anne Boleyn in the wonders of the horseman- 
ship and the tricks of the clown/' 

Into the last day were crowded visits to the 
Houses of Lords and Commons, to Westminster 
Abbey, to Cox's Museum in Spring Gardens, to 
the Leverian Museum in the Blackfriars Road, 
and finally at night to the theatre once more, 


Mary Russell Mitford 

returning home on the morrow " without a 
moment's weariness of mind or body." 

About this time Lord Charles Murray- Aynsley, 
a younger son oi the Duke of Athol, became 
engaged to be married to a cousin of the Mitfords. 

" Lord Charles, as fine a young man as one 
should see in a summer's day, tall, well-made, 
with handsome features . . . and charming 
temper, had an infirmity which went nigh to 
render all [his] good gifts of no avail ; a shyness, 
a bashfulness, a timidity most painful to him- 
self and distressing to all about him. . . . That 
a man with such a temperament, who could 
hardly summon courage to say ' How d'ye do ? ' 
should ever have wrought himself up to the 
point of putting the great question was wonder- 
ful. ... I myself, a child not five years old, one 
day threw him into an agony of blushing by 
running up to his chair in mistake for my papa. 
Now I was a shy child, a very shy child, and as 
soon as I arrived in front of his lordship and 
found that I had been misled by a resemblance 
of dress, by the blue coat and buff waistcoat, I 
first of all crept under the table, and then flew 
to hide my face in my mother's lap ; my poor 
fellow-sufferer, too big for one place of refuge, 
too old for the other, had nothing for it but to 
run away, which, the door being luckily open, 
he happily accomplished." 



DR. MITFORD had been gradually establishing 
a practice in Reading, where a remarkable cure 
he had effected was already making his name 
known, when, as his daughter tells us, he 
resolved to remove to Lyme, " feeling with 
characteristic sanguineness that in a fresh place 
success would be certain." 

Some of our readers will no doubt have 
visited Lyme Regis that quaint little seaport 
situated on the steep slope of a hill, whose main 
street seems, as Jane Austen has remarked, " to 
be almost hurrying into the water. " They will 
remember its harbour formed by the curved 
stone piers of the old Cobb, from which can be 
seen the pretty bay with its sandy beach bor- 
dered by the Parade, or " Walk" as it used to 
be called, which runs at the foot of a grassy 
hillside. At the town end of this " Walk " are 
to be seen some thatched cottages nestling 
under the shelter of the hill, and beyond them 
on a small promontory, jutting out into the sea, 


Mary Russell Mitford 

the old Assembly Rooms. A few miles east- 
ward lies the sunny little bay of Charmouth, 
with a grand chain of hills beyond it, rising from 
the water's edge and terminating in the far 
distance in the Bill of Portland. 

Lyme Regis lies in the borderland of Dorset 
and Devonshire, " but the character of the 
scenery," writes Miss Mitford, " the boldness 
of the coast, and the rich woodiness of the 
inland views belong entirely to Devonshire- 
beautiful Devonshire. 

" Our habitation/' she continues, " although 
situated not merely in the town but in the prin- 
cipal street, had nothing in common with the 
small and undistinguished houses on either side. 
It was a very large, long-fronted stone mansion, 
terminated at either end by massive iron gates, 
the pillars of which were surmounted by spread 
eagles. An old stone porch, with benches on 
either side, projected from the centre, covered, 
as was the whole front of the house, with 
tall, spreading, wide-leafed myrtle, abounding 
in blossom, with moss-roses, jessamine and 
passion-flowers/ ' 

This old porch had its special historical associ- 
ation, for here William Pitt as a child used 
to play at marbles when his father the great 
Lord Chatham rented the Great House. Un- 
happily the porch has been altered and injured 


- v a 

Lyme Regis 

since we visited Lyme some years ago. Other 
changes have also been made at various periods, 
notably a storey added in the northern or upper 
end of the building ; but in spite of these 
changes the Great House, as it is always called, 
still dominates the little town like a feudal 
castle of old amongst its vassals, its massive 
walls manfully resisting modern innovations. 

The illustration represents the house as it 
appeared in Miss Mitford's day. 

The southern portion of the building is of 
the most ancient date. Its walls are of great 
thickness. The Great House is full of traditions 
of past history, and its gloomy vaults and 
passages below ground must have witnessed 
many a tragic scene at the time of the Mon- 
mouth Rebellion. Here it was that Judge 
Jeffreys took up his quarters for a time when 
he came to stamp out the Rebellion and to 
wreak the vengeance of James II upon the un- 
happy followers of his rival. The owner of the 
house in those days was a man named Jones 
the squire of Lyme who aided and abetted 
Jeffreys in all his awful tyranny, spying upon 
the inhabitants and reporting every idle word 
that might serve to incriminate them. The 
memory of Jones is loathed to this day, and 
tradition declares the house to be haunted by 
his ghost. 

p 33 

Mary Russell Mitford 

Happily the little girl, who came to live in 
this weird old mansion, knew nothing of its 
tragic history, and could laugh and play with 
childish mirth above its sombre vaults. In her 
Recollections, Mary Mitford speaks of the " large, 
lofty rooms of the building, of its noble oaken 
staircases, its marble hall, and its long galleries/' 
and mentions " the book room," where her 
grandfather Dr. Russell's fine library was 
arranged. " Behind the building," she says, 
" which extended round a paved quadrangle, 
was the drawing-room, a splendid apartment 
looking upon a little lawn surrounded by choice 
evergreens," beyond which lay the spacious 

The drawing-room still bears traces of its 
former dignity in its lofty ceiling and hand- 
some dentil cornice, and also in its three tall 
recessed windows, whose side panels end in fine 
curled scrolls. 

" My own nurseries/' she says, " were spacious 
and airy, but the place which I most affected 
was a dark panelled chamber on the first floor, 
to which I descended through a private door by 
half a dozen stairs, so steep that, still a very 
small and puny child between eight and a half 
and nine and a half, and unable to run down 
them in the common way, I used to jump from 
one step to the other." 



Lyme Regjs 

We have entered this small panelled room, 
which is lighted by a narrow leaded window, 
and as we looked upon the steps leading down 
from the upper room we fancied we saw the 
tiny figure jumping from step to step. 

" This chamber," 'continues Miss Mitford, 
" was filled with such fossils as were then known 
. . . some the cherished products of my own 
discoveries, and some broken for me by my 
father's little hammer from portions of the 
rocks that lay beneath the cliffs, under which 
almost every day we used to wander hand-in- 

Beyond " the little lawn, surrounded by 
choice evergreens," there was " an old-fashioned 
greenhouse and a filbert-tree walk, from which 
again three detached gardens sloped abruptly 
down to one of the clear, dancing rivulets of that 
western country." These three gardens are 
still to be seen. A part of them is well culti- 
vated, and abounds in smooth lawns, majestic 
trees and flowers of all kinds ; but that part 
which belongs to the older portion of the man- 
sion, deserted for many years, is left wild and 
untended. It is, however, pathetically beauti- 
ful in its mixture of garden flowers and showy 
weeds. The high box-edgings to the borders 
prove that great care was once taken of the 
place, and the tall rose bushes which still 


Mary Russell Mitford 

abound stretch out their long branches of pink 
and white blossoms as if to hide what is mean 
and unsightly, 

' In the steep declivity of the central garden/' 
writes Mary, " which I was permitted to call 
mine, was a grotto overarching a cool, sparkling 
spring, never overflowing its small sandy basin, 
which yet was always full/' " Years many and 
long/' she adds, " have passed since I sat beside 
that tiny fountain, and yet never have I for- 
gotten the pleasure which I derived from 
watching its clear crystal wave/' 

1 The slopes on either side of the grotto," 
she says, " were carpeted with strawberries and 
dotted with fruit trees. One drooping medlar, 
beneath whose pendent branches I have often 
hidden, I remember well." 

This spring is known in that country-side by 
the name of the " Lepers' Well." It is reached 
by a steep flight of rugged stone steps from the 
. terrace above, and is still surrounded by old 
gnarled fruit trees, though the medlar seems to 
have disappeared. Beyond a low hedge at the 
foot of the grounds flows the little river Lym, 
clear and sparkling as ever. 

Lyme is full of traditions, and this little river, 
at one spot, bears the name of " Jordan," so 
called by a colony of Baptists who took refuge 
in the neighbourhood during the seventeenth 


Lyme Regis 

century. It was in " Jordan " that they im- 
mersed their converts, and the old Biblical 
names given by them to the adjoining fields of 
Jericho and Paradise still linger in that district. 
" I used to disdain the [Devonshire] stream- 
lets/' writes Mary, " with such scorn as a small 
damsel fresh from the Thames and the Kennett 
thinks herself privileged to display. ' They call 
that a river here, papa ! Can't you jump me 
over it ? ' quoth I in my sauciness. About a 
month ago I heard a young lady from New 
York talking in some such strain of Father 
Thames. ' It's a pretty little stream,' said she, 
' but to call it a river ! ' And I half expected 
to hear a complete reproduction of my own 
impertinence, and a request to be jumped from 
one end to the other of Caver sham Bridge ! " 




WRITING of her sojourn at Lyme Regis Miss 
Mitford says :- 

" That was my only opportunity of making 
acquaintance with the mighty ocean in its 
winter sublimity of tempest and storm ; and 
partly perhaps from the striking and awful 
nature of the impression [upon the mind of] a 
lonely, musing, visionary child, the recollection 
remains indelibly fixed in my memory, fresh 
and vivid as if of yesterday. . . . 

" Once my father took me from my bed at 
midnight that I might see, from the highest 
storey of our house, the grandeur and the glory 
of the tempest ; the spray rising to the very tops 
of the cliffs, pale and ghastly in the lightning, 
and hear the roar of the sea, the moaning of the 
wind, the roll of the thunder, and amongst them 
all the fearful sound of the minute guns, telling 
of death and danger on that iron-bound coast. 
Then in the morning I have seen the cold bright 
wintry sun shining gaily on the dancing sea, 


A Stormy Coast 

still stirred by the last breath of the tempest, and 
on the floating spars and parted timbers of 
the wreck. . . . 

" My walks/' she writes, " were confined to 
rambles on the shore with my maid, or still 
more to my delight with my dear father, the 
recollection of whose fond indulgence is con- 
nected with every pleasure of my childhood. . . . 
Sometimes we would go towards Charmouth, 
with its sweeping bay, passing below church 
and churchyard, perched high above us, and 
already undermined by the tide. Another time 
we bent our steps to the Pinny cliffs [that 
stretch away] on the western side of the har- 
bour ; the beautiful Pinny cliffs, where an old 
landslip had deposited a farm-house, with its 
outbuildings, its garden and its orchard, tossed 
half-way down amongst the rocks, its look of 
home and of comfort contrasting so strangely 
with the dark rugged masses above, below and 

" My father, a dabbler in science, with his 
hammer and basket was engaged in breaking 
off fragments of rock, to search for curious spars 
and fossil remains ; I in picking up shells and 
sea- weed. . . . What enjoyment it was to feel 
the pleasant sea-breeze, and see the sun dancing 
on the waters, and wander as free as the sea- 
bird over my head beneath those beetling cliffs ! 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Now for a moment losing sight of the dear papa, 
and now rejoining him with some delicate shell, 
or brightly coloured sea-weed, or imperfect 
coruna ammoris, enquiring into the success of 
his graver labours, and comparing our dis- 
coveries and treasures. 

" What pleasure too to rest at the well-known 
cottage, the general termination of our walk, 
where old Simon the curiosity-monger picked 
up a mongrel sort of livelihood by selling fossils 
and petrifactions to one class of visitors, and 
cakes and fruit and cream to another. His 
scientific bargains were not without suspicion 
of a little cheatery, as my companion used 
laughingly to tell him . . . but the fruit and 
curds were honest, as I can well avouch ; and 
the legends of petrified sea-monsters, with 
which they were seasoned, bones of the mam- 
moth, and skeletons of the sea-serpent have 
always been amongst the pleasantest of my 
seaside recollections/' 

Perhaps these " legends " had a tinge of 
prophecy in them, as it was only fifteen years 
later that Mary Anning, then a child of eleven 
years old, discovered in the rocks of Lyme 
Regis the gigantic fossil bones of the ichthyo- 
saurus a creature whose very jaw it seems 
exceeded six feet in length, and whose existence 
had hitherto been unknown. She also dis- 


A Stormy Coast 

covered later on the remains of the plesio- 
saurus. 1 

Miss Anning kept a curiosity shop in a tiny 
house which is still to be seen facing the upper 
gates of the Great House. The King of Saxony, 
who visited Lyme in 1844, thus describes the 
place : 

" We had alighted from the carriage," he 
writes, " and were proceeding along on foot 
when we fell in with a shop in which the most 
remarkable petrifactions and fossil remains 
the head of an ichthyosaurus, beautiful am- 
monites, etc. were exhibited in the window. 
We entered and found a little shop and adjoin- 
ing chamber completely filled with fossil pro- 
ductions of the coast. ... I was anxious 
[before leaving] to write down the address of 
the place, and the woman who kept the shop 
with a firm hand wrote her name ' Mary 
Anning ' in my pocket-book, and added as 
she returned the book into my hands : ' I am 
well known throughout the whole of Europe.' 

It is said that the King of Saxony paid a 
second visit to the fossil shop, when he invited 
Miss Anning to accompany him in his travelling 
coach and four to the scene of the great landslip 
at Pinny. On reaching a small farm-house on 

1 The entire skeletons of these actual creatures are now to 
be seen in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington; 


Mary Russell Mitford 

the hillside they quitted the coach to roam 
about the fallen rocks. On their return they 
found an old country woman seated in the 
stately vehicle. She explained, with some con- 
fusion, that she wanted to be able to boast 
hereafter that she had sat for once in her life 
in a royal coach ! The kindly monarch assured 
her that he was in no way displeased, and he 
handed her out of the coach with courtly polite- 

Miss Mitford in one of her letters remarks : 
" It is singular that the name of Mary Anning 
crosses me often. One of my friend Mr. 
Kenyon's graceful poems is addressed to her, 
and Charmouth and Lyme are dear to me as 
being full of my first recollections of the sea. 
I should like of all things to go there again and 
make acquaintance with Mary Aiming." 

Here are a few stanzas of the poem alluded 
to :- 

" E'en poets shall by thee set store ; 

For wonders feed the poet's wish ; 
And is their mermaid wondrous more 
Than thy half-lizard and half-fish ? 

While Lyme's dark-headed urchins grow 
Each in his turn to grey-haired men, 

Yet, when grown old, this beach they walk, 
Some pensive breeze their grey locks fanning, 

Their sons shall love to hear them talk 
Of many a feat of Mary Anning." 


A Stormy Coast 

Writing of their residence in Lyme Mary 
says : 

" My dear mother had three or four young 
relations, misses in their teens, staying with her 
and was sufficiently occupied in playing the 
chaperone to the dull gaieties of the place. . . . 
Of course I was too young to be admitted to the 
society, such as it was ; but I had even then a 
dim glimmering perception of its being anything 
but exhilarating." 

Sometimes the company assembled in the 
Great House. " One incident that occurred 
there," writes Miss Mitford " a frightful danger 
a providential escape I shall never forget. 

" There was to be a ball at the rooms, and a 
party of sixteen or eighteen persons, dressed for 
the assembly, were sitting in the dining-room 
at dessert. The ceiling was ornamented with a 
rich running pattern of flowers in high relief, the 
shape of the wreath corresponding pretty exactly 
with the company arranged round the oval 
table. Suddenly, without the slightest warn- 
ing, all that part of the ceiling became detached 
and fell down in large masses upon the table 
and the floor. It seems even now all but 
miraculous how such a catastrophe could occur 
without danger to life or limb ; but the only 
things damaged were the flowers and feathers 
of the ladies and the fruits and wines of the 
E 49 

Mary Russell Mitford 

dessert. I myself, caught instantly in my 
father's arms, by whose side I was standing, 
had scarcely even time to be frightened, 
although after the danger was over our fair 
visitors of course began to scream/' 

Towards the end of their year's residence in 
Lyme Regis the fortunes of the Mitford family 
were once more clouded over. 

" Nobody told me," writes Mary, "but I felt, 
I knew, I had an interior conviction for which 
I could not have accounted . . . that in spite 
of the company, in spite of the gaiety, some- 
thing was wrong. It was such a foreshowing 
as makes the quicksilver in the barometer sink 
whilst the weather is still bright and clear. 

"And at last the change came. My father 
went again to London and lost I think, I have 
always thought so more money. . . . Then 
one by one our visitors departed ; and my 
father, who had returned in haste again, in 
equal haste left home, after short interviews 
with landlords, and lawyers, and auctioneers ; 
and I knew I can't tell how, but I did know 
that everything was to be parted with and every- 
body paid. 

" That same night two or three large chests 
were carried away through the garden by 
George and another old servant, and a day or 
two after my mother and myself, with Mrs. 


A Stormy Coast 

Mosse, the good housekeeper who lived with 
my grandfather, and the other maid-servant, 
left Lyme in a hack-chaise." 

After various delays, due partly to the break- 
ing up of a camp between Bridport and Dor- 
chester, the party pursued their journey in " a 
sort of tilted cart without springs." " Doubt- 
less," remarks Mary, " many a fine lady would 
laugh at such a shift. But it was not as a tem- 
porary discomfort that it came upon my poor 
mother. It was her first touch of poverty. It 
seemed like the final parting from all the 
elegances and all the accommodations to which 
she had been used. I shall never forget her 
heart-broken look when she took her little girl 
upon her lap in that jolting caravan, nor how 
the tears stood in her eyes when we turned into 
our miserable bedroom when we reached the 
roadside alehouse where we were to pass the 
night. The next day we resumed our journey, 
and reached a dingy, comfortless lodging in one 
of the suburbs beyond Westminster Bridge." 



THE (< comfortless lodging " mentioned by Miss 
Mitford was on the Surrey side of Blackfriars 
Bridge, where Dr. Mitford, it seems, was able to 
find a refuge from his creditors within the rules 
of the King's Bench. 

" What my father's plans were," writes his 
daughter in later years, " I do not exactly know ; 
probably to gather together what disposable 
money still remained after paying all debts from 
the sale of books, plate and furniture at Lyme 
and thence to proceed ... to practise in some 
distant town. At all events London was the 
best starting-place, and he could consult his 
old fellow-pupil and life-long friend, Dr. Babing- 
ton, then one of the physicians to Guy's Hos- 
pital, and refresh his medical studies with ex- 
periments and lectures. In the meanwhile his 
spirits returned as buoyant as ever, and so, now 
that fear had changed into certainty, did mine." 

But at this time, when the prospects of the 
family seemed to be irretrievably overclouded 


A Flight 

and when dire poverty stared them in the face, 
an extraordinary event occurred to raise them 
suddenly into affluence ! 

" In the intervals of his professional pursuits/' 
writes Mary, " my father walked about London 
with his little girl in his hand ; and one day (it 
was my birthday, and I was ten years old) he 
took me into a not very tempting-looking place 
which was, as I speedily found, a lottery office. 
An Irish lottery was upon the point of being 
drawn, and he desired me to choose one out of 
several bits of printed paper (I did not then 
know their significance) that lay upon the 

' Choose which number you like best/ said 
the dear papa, ' and that shall be your birthday 

" I immediately selected one, and put it into 
his hand : No. 2224. 

' ' Ah/ said my father, examining it, ' you 
must choose again. I want to buy a whole 
ticket, and this is only a quarter. Choose again, 
my pet.' 

' No, dear papa, I like this one best/ 

' Here is the next number/ interposed the 
lottery office keeper, ' No. 2223.' 

' Ay/ said my father, ' that will do just as 
well. Will it not, Mary ? We'll take that/ 
" ' No/ returned I obstinately, ' that won't 

Mary Russell Mitford 

do. This is my birthday you know, papa, and I 
am ten years old. Cast up my number and you'll 
find that makes ten. The other is only nine/' 

' My father, superstitious like all speculators, 
struck with my pertinacity and with the reason 
I gave, resisted the attempt of the office keeper 
to tempt me by different tickets, and we had 
nearly left the shop without a purchase when the 
clerk who had been examining different desks 
and drawers, said to his principal : 

" ' I think, sir, the matter may be managed 
if the gentleman does not mind paying a few 
shillings more. That ticket 2224 only came 
yesterday, and we have still all the shares : one- 
half, one-quarter, one-eighth, two-sixteenths. 
It will be just the same if the young lady is set 
upon it/ 

" The young lady was set upon it, and the 
shares were purchased. 

" The whole affair was a secret between us, 
and my father, whenever he got me to himself, 
talked over our future twenty thousand pounds 
just like Alnaschar over his basket of eggs. 

" Meanwhile time passed on, and one Sunday 
morning we were all preparing to go to church 
when a face that I had forgotten, but my father 
had not, made its appearance. It was the clerk 
of the lottery office. An express had just arrived 
from Dublin announcing that No. 2224 had been 


A Flight 

drawn a prize of twenty thousand pounds, and 
he had hastened to communicate the good 

" Ah, me ! " writes Miss Mitford in later life. 
" In less than twenty years what was left of the 
produce of the ticket so strangely chosen ? 
What ? except a Wedgwood dinner-service 
that my father had had made to commemorate 
the event, with the Irish harp within the border 
on one side and his family crest on the other ! 
That fragile and perishable ware outlasted the 
more perishable money/' 

The writer of a graceful article entitled, " In 
Miss Mitford's Country/' which appeared in a 
magazine several years ago, saw at a friend's 
house in Reading some odd pieces of this very 
dinner-service. These consisted of " a tureen 
of beautiful shape, two or three soup-plates and 
a couple of butter-boats and stands in one, in 
Wedgwood fashion." When handling the 
china she observed " that the Mitford crest was 
stamped on one side of the pieces while on the 
opposite side appeared a harp bearing between 
the strings the mystic number 2224." 

She supposed this to be the Wedgwoods' 
private number, and it was not until she came 
upon the passage just quoted in Miss Mitford's 
Recollections of a Literary Life that the mystery 
was solved. 



AFTER the extraordinary event of the lottery 
ticket the Mitfords were suddenly placed in a 
position of opulence, and they joyfully quitted 
their dingy London lodgings and returned once 
more to Reading. The doctor had taken a new 
red brick house in the London Road, a road 
which in those days bordered the open country. 

The house is still standing, and is probably 
much as it was in the Mitfords' day. It has a 
deep verandah in front, and behind stretches 
a long piece of garden. A small room at the 
back of the house is pointed out to visitors as 
Dr. Mitford's dispensary. 

Mary Russell Mitford loved the old town of 
Reading Belford Regis, as she always calls it 
in her stories and the various descriptions of 
the place, scattered throughout her writings, 
make the Reading of her day to live again. 

On one occasion she describes the view of the 
town as seen from the jutting corner of Friar 
Street, where she had taken shelter from a 


Return to Reading 

shower of rain. She speaks of " the fine church 
tower of St. Nicholas, 1 with its picturesque 
piazza underneath " and its " old vicarage 
house hard by, embowered in evergreens " ; of 
" the old irregular shops in the market-place, 
with the trees of the Forbury beyond just peep- 
ing between them, with all their varieties of 
light and shadow." 

Another day, after mentioning " the huge 
monastic ruins of the Abbey," with all its 
monuments of ancient times, she goes on to 
say " or for a modern scene what can surpass 
the High Bridge on a sunshiny day ? The 
bright river crowded with barges and small 
craft ; the streets and wharfs and quays, all 
alive with the busy and stirring population of 
the country and the town a combination of 
light and motion." 

Miss Mitford has described this same scene 
as it appeared on a cold winter's evening in a 
book written late in life entitled, Atherton and 
other Stories, which we should like to quote here. 

" From ... the High Bridge the Rennet now 
showed like a mirror reflecting on its icy surface 
into a peculiar broad and bluish shine, the arch 
of lamps surmounting the graceful airy bridge 
and the twinkling lights that glanced here and 
there, from boat or barge or wharf, or from 

1 St. Lawrence. 

Mary Russell Mitford 

some uncurtained window that overhung the 

But the chief beauty of the old town was to 
be seen in summer time on a Saturday (market- 
day) at noon. " The old market-place, always 
picturesque from the irregular architecture of 
the houses, and the beautiful Gothic church by 
which it is terminated, is then all alive with the 
busy hum of traffic. . . . Noise of every sort 
is to be heard, from the heavy rumbling of so 
many loaded waggons over the paved market- 
place to the crash of crockery ware in the 
narrow passage -of Princes Street. One of the 
noisiest and prettiest places is the Piazza at 
the end of St. Nicholas Church appropriated 
by long usage to the female vendors of fruit 
and vegetables/' The butter market was at 
the back of the market proper, " where respect- 
able farmers' wives and daughters sold eggs, 
butter and poultry." Here too " straw-hats, 
caps and ribbons were sold, also pet rabbits 
and guinea-pigs, together with owls and linnets 
in cages." 

Among the odd characters who turned up on 
the occasion of markets or fairs Miss Mitford 
mentions a certain rat-catcher by name Sam 
Page " whose own appearance was as venomous 
as that of his retinue," and " told his calling 
almost as plainly as the sharp heads of the 


Return to Reading 

ferrets which protruded from the pockets of his 
dirty jean jacket, or the bunch of dead rats 
with which he was wont to parade the streets 
of B. on a market-day." But before he had 
taken to this business, she says, he had tried 
many other callings, amongst them those of " a 
barrel-organ grinder, the manager of a celebrated 
company of dancing dogs, and the leader of 
a bear and a very accomplished monkey. 
Suddenly he reappeared one day at B. fair as 
showman of the Living Skeleton, and also a 
performer [himself] in the Tragedy of the 
Edinburgh Murders, as exhibited every half -hour 
at the price of a penny to each person." Sam 
confessed that he liked acting of all things, 
especially tragedy ; <l it was such fun." 

Of the period with which we are dealing 
Mary writes : " I was a girl at the time a very 
young girl, and, what is more to the purpose, a 
very shy one, so that I mixed in none of the 
gaieties of the place ; but speaking from obser- 
vation and recollection I can fairly say that I 
never saw any society more innocently cheerful." 
She tells us of " the old ladies and their tea 
visits, the gentlemen and their whist club, and 
the merry Christmas parties with their round 
games and their social suppers, their mirth and 
their jests." 

And now for Mary herself : how did she strike 


Mary Russell Mitford 

the new acquaintances that her parents were 
making ? One who knew her well tells us that 
" she showed in her countenance, and in her 
mild self-possession, that she was no ordinary 
chiki ; and with her sweet smile, her gentle 
temper, her animated conversation, her keen 
enjoyment of life, and her incomparable voice 
" that excellent thing in woman ' there 
were few of the prettiest children of her age 
who won so much love and admiration from 
their friends young and old as little Mary 

In one of Miss Mitford's tales entitled My 
Godmothers there is an amusing account of a 
stiff maiden lady of the old school by name 
Mrs. Patience Wither (the " Mrs/' being given 
her by brevet rank). " In point of fact/' writes 
Mary, " she was not my godmother, having 
stood only as proxy for her younger sister, 
Mrs. Mary, my mother's intimate friend, then 
falling into a lingering decline. 

11 Mrs. Patience was very masculine in person, 
tall, square, large-boned and remarkably up- 
right. Her features were sufficiently regular, 
and would not have been unpleasing but for the 
keen, angry look of her light blue eye . . . and 
her fiery, wiry red hair, to which age did no 
good, it would not turn grey. . . . She lived 
in a large, tall, upright, stately house in the 


Return to Reading 

largest street of a large town. It was a grave 
looking mansion, defended from the pavement 
by iron palisades, a flight of steps before the 
sober brown door, and every window curtained 
and blinded by chintz and silk and muslin, 
crossing and jostling each other. None of the 
rooms could be seen from the street, nor the 
street from any of the rooms so complete was 
the obscurity. 

" On the death of her sister Mrs. Patience 
. . . was pleased to lay claim to me in right of 
inheritance, and succeeded to the title of my 
godmother pretty much in the same way that 
she succeeded to the possession of Flora, her 
poor sister's favourite spaniel. I am afraid that 
Flora proved the more grateful subject of the 
two. I never saw Mrs. Patience but she took 
possession of me for the purpose of lecturing 
and documenting me on some subject or other, 
holding up my head, shutting the door, 
working a sampler, making a shirt, learning the 
pence table, or taking physic. . . . 

" She was assiduous in presents to me at 
home and at school ; sent me cakes with 
cautions against over-eating, and needle-cases 
with admonitions to use them ; she made over 
to me her own juvenile library, consisting of a 
large collection of unreadable books . . . nay, 
she even rummaged out for me a pair of old 


Mary Russell Mitford 

battledores, curiously constructed of netted 
pack-thread the toys of her youth ! But 
bribery is generally thrown away upon children, 
especially on spoilt ones ; the godmother whom 
I loved never gave me anything, and every 
fresh present from Mrs. Patience seemed to me 
a fresh grievance. I was obliged to make a call 
and a curtsy, and to stammer out something 
which passed for a speech, or, which was still 
worse, to write a letter of thanks a stiff, formal, 
precise letter ! I would rather have gone with- 
out cakes or needle-cases, books or battledores 
to my dying day. Such was my ingratitude 
from five to fifteen/' 

One of the most prominent figures in the 
Reading of those days was Dr. Valpy, head- 
master of the Reading Grammar School. The 
school consisted of a group of buildings " stand- 
ing/' writes Miss Mitford, " in a nook of the 
pleasant green called the Forbury, and parted 
from the churchyard of St. Nicholas by a row 
of tall old houses. It was in itself a pretty 
object at least I, who loved it almost as much 
as if I had been of the sex that learns Greek and 
Latin, thought so. ... There was a little court 
before the door of the doctor's house with four 
fir trees, and at one end a projecting bay 
window belonging to a very long room [the 
doctor's study] lined with a noble collection of 


Return to Reading 

books/' The Forbury was used as the boys' 

Dr. Valpy was much reverenced by his fellow- 
townsmen and greatly loved by his pupils, in 
spite of the stern discipline of those days which 
he considered it his duty to administer to cul- 
prits. Among his pupils was Sergeant Talfourd, 
who thus describes his character : " Envy, 
hatred and malice were to him mere names- 
like the figures of speech in a schoolboy's theme, 
or the giants in a fairy-tale, phantoms which 
never touched him with a sense of reality. . . . 
His system of education was animated by a 
portion of his own spirit : it was framed to 
enkindle and to quicken the best affections." 

Another contemporary who happened to be 
of a cynical turn of mind remarks of Dr. Valpy : 
" Had he been more supple in his principles or 
less open in their avowal he might have risen 
to the highest position in his sacred profession. 
A mitre might have been the reward of sub- 
serviency and the revenues of a diocese the 
bribe of tergiversation and hypocrisy, [but] he 
left to others such paths to preferment . . . 
and lived in the enjoyment of an unblemished 
reputation and a clear conscience." 

On the further side of the Forbury stood a 
large old-fashioned building adjoining the Abbey 
Gateway and bearing the name of the Abbey 


Mary Russell Mitford 

School. It was a school for " young ladies " of 
the ordinary type belonging to the eighteenth 
century, but which, at the time we are writing 
of, was gradually taking a higher position in 
general estimation. Three authoresses of very 
different degrees of fame were pupils in this 
establishment, namely : Jane Austen for a short 
time as a very young child, in about the year 
1782, Miss Butt (afterwards Mrs. Sherwood) in 
1790, and Mary Russell Mitford when the school 
was removed to London in 1798. 

The school had formerly been carried on 
under the management of a Mrs. Latournelle, a 
good-natured person but, as Mrs. Sherwood 
tells us, " only fit for giving out clothes for the 
wash, mending them, making tea and ordering 
dinners/' But after a time she took as a partner 
a young lady of talent and of excellent educa- 
tion who at once made her mark felt. 

What, however, caused the permanent suc- 
cess of the school was the arrival in Reading of 
a certain Monsieur St. Quintin, the son of a 
nobleman in Alsace a man of very superior 
intellect who had been secretary to the Comte 
de Moustier, one of the last ambassadors from 
Louis XVI to the Court of St. James. Having 
lost all his property in the French Revolution, 
he was thankful to accept the post of French 
teacher in Dr. Valpy's school, and was soon 


Return to Reading 

afterwards recommended by the doctor as a 
teacher of French in the Abbey School. In 
course of time he married Mrs. Latournelle's 
young partner, and they " soon so entirely 
raised the credit of the seminary/' writes Mrs. 
Sherwood, " that when I went there, there 
were above sixty girls under their charge. 
The style of M. St. Quintin's teaching," she 
says, " was lively and interesting in the ex- 

Dr. Mitford had been a warm friend to 
M. St. Quintin ever since his arrival in Reading, 
and there was much pleasant intercourse be- 
tween the Mit fords and the St. Quintins. In 
the summer of 1798 the school was transferred 
to London, and Dr. and Mrs. Mitford, who had 
then decided to send their little daughter to 
school, were glad to place her under the friendly 
care of M. and Madame St. Quintin. 


MONSIEUR and Madame St. Quintin, on remov- 
ing the Abbey School from Reading to London, 
established it in Hans Place, a small oblong 
square of pleasant-looking houses with a garden 
in the centre. It was almost surrounded by 
fields, for London proper terminated in those 
days with the double toll-gates at Hyde Park 

The school-house (No. 22) was one of the 
largest in the place, and possessed a spacious 
garden abounding in fine trees, smooth lawns 
and gay flower-beds. Thither the little Mary 
was sent on the reopening of the school after 
the midsummer holidays of the year 1798. 
Writing in later years she thus describes the 
event : 

" It is now more than twenty years since 
I, a petted child of ten years old, born and 
bred in the country, and as shy as a hare, was 
sent to that scene of bustle and confusion, a 
London school. Oh, what a change it was ! 


The School in Hans Place 

What a terrible change ! ... To leave my 
own dear home for this strange new place and 
these strange new people . . . and so many 
of them ! . . . I shall never forget the misery 
of the first two days, blushing to be looked at, 
dreading to be spoken to, shrinking like a 
sensitive plant from the touch, ashamed to 
cry, and feeling as if I could never laugh 

" These disconsolate feelings are not astonish- 
ing . . . the wonder is that they so soon passed 
away. But everybody was good and kind. In 
less than a week the poor wild bird was tamed. 
I could look without fear on the bright, happy 
faces ; listen without starting to the clear, high 
voices, even though they talked in French ; 
began to watch the ball and the battledore ; 
and felt something like an inclination to join in 
the sports. In short, I soon became an efficient 
member of the commonwealth ; made a friend, 
provided myself with a school-mother, a fine, 
tall, blooming girl . . . under whose protection 
I began to learn and unlearn, to acquire the 
habits and enter into the views of my com- 
panions, as well disposed to be idle as the best 
of them." 

M. St. Quintin taught the pupils French, 
history and geography, also as much science as 
he was master of or as he thought it requisite 


Mary Russell Mitford 

for a young lady to know. Madame St. Quintin 
did but little teaching at this period, but used 
to sit in the drawing-room with a book in her 
hand to receive visitors. After M. St. Quintin 
the mainstay of the school was the English 
teacher, Miss Rowden, an accomplished young 
lady of good birth, who was assisted by finishing 
masters for Italian, music, dancing and drawing. 
She was admired and loved by the whole school, 
and especially by Mary Mitford, over whom she 
exercised an excellent influence. 

(( To fill up any nook of time/' writes Mary, 
" which the common demands of the school 
might leave vacant, we used to read together, 
chiefly poetry. With her I first became ac- 
quainted with Pope's Homer, Dryden's Virgil 
and the Paradise Lost. She read capitally, 
and was a most indulgent hearer of my remarks 
and exclamations ; suffered me to admire 
Satan and detest Ulysses, and rail at the pious 
^Eneas as long as I chose/' 

The French teacher was a very different type 
of womanhood. " She was a tall, majestic 
woman," writes Mary, " between sixty and 
seventy, made taller by yellow slippers with 
long slender heels. . . . Her face was almost in- 
visible, being concealed between a mannish kind 
of neck-cloth and an enormous cap, whose wide, 
flaunting strip hung over her cheeks and eyes ; 


The School in Hans Place 

to say nothing of a huge pair of spectacles. 
Madame, all Parisian though she was, had the 

..'..-" fsWj .N >\ 


fidgety neatness of a Dutch woman, and was 
scandalized at our untidy habits. Four days 
passed in distant murmurs . . . but this was 


Mary Russell Mitford 

only the gathering of the wind before the storm. 
It was dancing day ; -we were all dressed and 
assembled when Madame, provoked by some 
indications of latent disorder, instituted, much 
to our consternation, a general rummage through 
the house for all things out of their places. The 
collected mass was thrown together in one 
stupendous pile in the middle of the schoolroom 
a pile that defies description or analysis. The 
whole was to be apportioned amongst the dif- 
ferent owners and then affixed to their persons ! 
. ". . Poor Madame ! Article after article was 
held up to be owned in vain : not a soul would 
claim such dangerous property. Nevertheless, 
she did succeed by dint of lucky guesses, [and 
soon] dictionaries were suspended from the 
necks of the pupils en medaillon, shawls tied 
round the waist en ceinture, and unbound music 
pinned to the frock en queue . . . not one of 
us but had three or four of these appendages ; 
many had five or six. These preparations were 
intended to meet the eye of Madame's country- 
man, the French dancing master, who would 
doubtless assist in supporting her authority. . . . 
She did not know that before his arrival we 
were to pass an hour in an exercise of another 
kind, under the command of a drill-sergeant. 
The man of scarlet was ushered in. It is im- 
possible to say whether the professor of march- 


The School in Hans Place 

ing or the poor Frenchwoman looked most dis- 
concerted. Madame began a very voluble ex- 
planatory harangue ; but she was again unfor- 
tunate the sergeant did not understand French. 
She attempted to translate : ' It is, Sare, que 
ces dames, dat dese miss be des traineuses.' 
This clear and intelligible sentence producing 
no other visible effect than a shake of the head, 
Madame desired the nearest culprit to tell ' ce 
soldat la ' what she had said, which caused him 
of the red coat to declare that ' it made his 
blood boil to see so many free-born English 
girls dominated over by their natural enemy/ 
Finally he insisted that we could not march 
with such incumbrances, which declaration 
being done into French all at once by half a 
dozen eager tongues, the trappings were re- 
moved and the experiment was ended/' 

In spite of this comical exception, the general 
system of education followed in Hans Place was 
greatly superior to that of the ordinary board- 
ing schools of the day, where all that could be 
said of a young lady when her education was 
finished was that she " played a little, sang a 
little, talked a little indifferent French, painted 
shells and roses, not particularly like nature, 
danced admirably, and was the best player at 
battledore and shuttle-cock, hunt-the-slipper 
and blindman's-buff in her county." 

7 1 

Mary Russell Mitford 

Dr. and Mrs. Mitford visited their little 
daughter frequently during the period of her 
school life often taking lodgings in the neigh- 
bourhood to be within easy reach. Mrs. Mitford 
writes on one of these occasions to her husband : 
" Mezza " (a pet name for Mary), " who has got 
her little desk here, and her great dictionary, is 
hard at her studies beside me. . . . Her little 
spirits are all abroad to obtain the prize, some- 
times hoping, sometimes desponding. It is as 
well perhaps you are not here at present, as you 
would be in as great a fidget on the occasion as 
she herself is." 

Whether Mary won this particular prize we 
do not know, but that she did win prizes is 
proved by the fact that two of them are care- 
fully treasured by the descendants of some of 
her friends. One of these is in our temporary 
possession. It is a large volume entitled, Adam's 
Geography, bound in calf, and ornamented with 
elegant patterns in gilding. On the upper side 
of the binding are the words : 



Bonne Conduite 

qu'a obtenu 

Mile. Midford 


The School in Hans Place 
while on the reverse side we read : 

Mrs. St. Quintin's 


Hans Place 

June I7th 


The Mitfords' name used to be spelt with a 
" d" at one time, but Dr. Mitford changed it 
to a " t " a few years later than the period of 
which we are writing. 

There were three vacations in the year, the 
breaking up for which was always preceded by 
a festival. Before Easter and Christmas there 
was usually a ballet " when the sides of the 
schoolroom were fitted up with bowers, in which 
the little girls who had to dance were seated, 
and whence they issued at a signal from M. 
Duval the dancing master, attired as sylphs or 
shepherdesses, to skip or glide through the 
mazy movements of a fancy dance to the music 
of his kit. Or sometimes there would be a 
dramatic performance, as when the same room 
was converted into a theatre for the represen- 
tation of Hannah More's Search after Happiness. 



DURING her school life Mary Mitford had an 
opportunity of seeing many of the French 
refugees of noble birth who had escaped from 
their country in the commencement of the 
Reign of Terror. 

" M. St. Quintin," she tells us, " being a lively, 
kind-hearted man, with a liberal hand and a 
social temper, it was his delight to assemble as 
many as he could of his poor countrymen and 
countrywomen around his hospitable supper- 

" Something wonderful and admirable it 
was," she writes, "to see how these dukes and 
duchesses, marshals and marquises, chevaliers 
and bishops bore up under their unparalleled 
reverses ! How they laughed, and talked, and 
squabbled, and flirted, constant to their high 
heels, their rouge and their furbelows, to their 
old liesons, their polished sarcasms and their 
cherished rivalries ! They clung even to their 
manages de convenance ; and the very habits 


A Glimpse of Old French Society 

which would most have offended our English 
notions, if we had seen them in their splendid 
hotels of the Faubourg St. Germain, won toler- 
ance and pardon when mixed up with such 
unaffected constancy and such cheerful resig- 

There were supper parties also given to other 
members of the French society by a cousin of 
Mary Mitford's who had married an emigre of 
high birth and who resided in Brunswick Square. 
Mary often spent the interval between Saturday 
afternoon and Monday morning with these 
relatives. " Saturday was their regular French 
day/' she writes, " when in the evening the 
conversation, music, games, manners and 
cookery were studiously and decidedly French. 
Trictrac superseded chess or backgammon, 
reversi took the place of whist, Gretry of Mozart, 
Racine of Shakespeare; omelettes and salads, 
champagne moussu, and eau sucre excluded 
sandwiches, oysters and porter. 

" At these suppers their little schoolgirl 
visitor," she says, " assisted, though at first 
rather in the French than the English sense of 
the word. I was present indeed, but had as 
little to do as possible either with speaking or 
eating. . . . However, in less than three months 
I became an efficient consumer of good things, 
and said ' oui, monsieur/ and ' merci, madame/ 


Mary Russell Mitford 

as often as a little girl of twelve years old ought 
to say anything. 

" I confess, however, that it took more time 
to reconcile me to the party round the table 
than to the viands with which it was covered. 
In truth they formed a motley group, reminding 
me now of a masquerade and then of a puppet 
show. I shall attempt to sketch a few of them 
as they then appeared to me, beginning, as 
etiquette demands, with the duchess. 

" She was a tall, meagre woman of a certain 
age (that is to say on the wrong side of sixty). 
Her face bore the remains of beauty, [but in- 
jured by] a quantity of glaring rouge. Her 
dress was always simple in its materials and 
delicately clean. She meant the fashion to be 
English, I believe, at least she used often to 
say, ' me voila mise a F Anglaise ' ; but as neither 
herself nor her faithful femme de chambre could 
or would condescend to seek for patterns from 
les grosses bougeoises de ce Londres Id has they 
constantly relapsed into the old French shapes. 
. . . She used to relate the story of her escape 
from France, and accounted herself the most 
fortunate of women for having, in company 
with her faithful femme de chambre, at last con- 
trived to reach England with jewels enough 
concealed about their persons to secure them a 
modest competence. No small part of her good 


A Glimpse of Old French Society 

fortune was the vicinity of her old friend the 
Marquis de L., a little thin, withered old man, 
with a face puckered with wrinkles, and a pro- 
digious volubility of tongue. This gentleman 
had been madame's devoted beau for the last 
forty years. . . . They could not exist without 
an interchange of looks and sentiments, a 
mental intelligence, a gentle gallantry on the 
one side and a languishing listening on the other, 
which long habit had rendered as necessary to 
both as their snuff-box or their coffee. 

" The next person in importance to the 
duchess was Madame de V., sister to the mar- 
quis. Her husband, who had acted in a diplo- 
matic capacity in the stormy days preceding 
the Revolution, still maintained his station at 
the exiled court, and was at the moment of 
which I write employed on a secret embassy to 
an unnamed potentate. ... In the dearth of 
Bourbon news this mysterious mission excited 
a lively and animated curiosity amongst these 
sprightly people. 

' In person Madame de V. was quite a con- 
trast to the duchess ; short, very crooked, with 
the sharp, odd-looking face and keen eye that 
so often accompany deformity. She [used] 
a quantity of rouge and finery, mingling 
[together] ribands, feathers and beads of all 
the colours of the rainbow. She was on excel- 


Mary Russell Mitford 

lent terms with all who knew her, and was also 
on the best terms with herself, in spite of the 
looking-glass, whose testimony indeed was so 
positively contradicted by certain couplets and 
acrostics addressed to her by M. le Comte de C., 
and the chevalier des I., the poets of the party, 
that to believe one uncivil dumb thing against 
two witnesses of such undoubted honour would 
have been a breach of politeness of which 
madame was incapable. 

" The Chevalier des I. was a handsome man, 
tall, dark-visaged, and whiskered, with a look 
rather of the new than of the old French school, 
fierce and soldierly ; he was accomplished too, 
played the flute, and wrote songs and enigmas. 
His wife, the prettiest of women, was the 
silliest Frenchwoman I ever encountered. She 
never opened her lips without uttering some 
betise. Her poor husband, himself not the 
wisest of men, quite dreaded her speaking. 

" It happened that the Abbe de Lille, the 
celebrated French poet, and M. de Colonne, the 
ex-minister, had promised one.Saturday to join 
the party in Brunswick Square. They came : 
and our chevalier [as a poet] could not miss so 
fair an opportunity of display. Accordingly, 
about half an hour before supper he put on a 
look of distraction, strode hastily two or three 
times up and down the room, slapped his fore- 


A Glimpse of Old French Society 

head, and muttered a line or two to himself, 
then, calling hastily for pen and paper, began 
writing with the illegible rapidity of one who 
fears to lose a happy thought ; in short, he 
acted incomparably the whole agony of com- 
position, and finally, with becoming diffidence, 
presented the impromptu to our worthy host, 
who immediately imparted it to the company. 
It was heard with lively approbation. At last 
the commerce of flattery ceased ; the author's 
excuses, the ex-minister's and the great poet's 
thanks, and the applause of the audience died 

"A pause [now] ensued which was broken 
by Madame des I., who had witnessed the whole 
scene with intense pleasure, and who exclaimed, 
with tears standing in her beautiful eyes, ' How 
glad I am they like the impromptu ! My poor 
dear chevalier ! No tongue can tell what pains 
it has cost him ! There he was all yesterday 
evening writing, writing, all the night long 
never went to bed all to-day only finished 
just before we came. My poor dear chevalier ! 
Now he'll be satisfied/ 

"Be it recorded to the honour of French 
politeness that finding it impossible to stop or 
to out-talk her, the whole party pretended not 
to hear, and never once alluded to this im- 
promptu fait a loisir till the discomforted 


Mary Russell Mitford 

chevalier sneaked off with his pretty simpleton. 
Then to be sure they did laugh. . . . 

" The Comtess de C. would have been very 
handsome but for one terrible drawback she 
squinted. I cannot abide those ' cross eyes/ as 
the country people call them ; but the French 
gentlemen did not seem to participate in my 
antipathy, for the countess was regarded as the 
beauty of the party. Agreeable she certainly 
was, lively and witty. . . . She had an agree- 
able little dog called Amour a pug, the smallest 
and ugliest of the species, who regularly after 
supper used to jump out of a muff, where he had 
lain perdu all the evening, and make the round 
of the supper-table, begging cake and biscuits. 
He and I established a great friendship, and he 
would even venture; on hearing my voice, to 
pop his poor little black nose out of his hiding- 
place before the appointed time. It required 
several repetitions of ft done from his mistress 
to drive him back behind the scenes till she 
gave him his cue. 

" No uncommon object of her wit was the 
mania of a young smooth-faced little abbe, the 
politician par eminence, where all were poli- 
ticians. M. 1'Abbe must have been an exceeding 
bore to our English ministers, whom by his 
own showing he pestered weekly with laboured 
memorials, plans for a rising in La Vendee, 


A Glimpse of Old French Society 

schemes for an invasion, proposals to destroy 
the French fleet, offers to take Antwerp, and 
plots for carrying off Buonaparte from the 
opera-house and lodging him in the Tower of 
London. Imagine the abduction, andjfancy 
him carried off by the unassisted prowess and 
dexterity of M. 1'Abbe ! " 

*"v- f Sitf^ 

~ >"" 



DR. MITFORD had set his heart upon his 
daughter's becoming an " accomplished musi- 
cian/' in spite of her having, as she tells us, 
" neither ear, nor taste, nor application/' 
Her first music master in Hans Place failing to 
bring about any improvement in her playing 
upon the piano, she was removed from his 
tuition and placed under that of a German 
professor, " an impatient, irritable man of 
genius," who, in his turn, soon summarily dis- 
missed his pupil ! " Things being in this un- 
promising state," she writes, " I began to enter- 
tain some hope that my musical education would 
be given up altogether. This time [however] 
my father threw the blame upon the instrument, 
and he now resolved that I should become a 
great performer upon the harp. 

" It happened that our school-house . . . was 
so built that the principal reception-room was 
connected with the entrance-hall by a long pas- 
sage and two double doors. This room, fitted 


The Gay Realities of Moli&re 

up with nicely bound books, contained, amongst 
other musical instruments, the harp upon 
which I was sent to practise every morning. 
I was sent alone, [and was] most comfortably 
out of sight and hearing of every individual in 
the house, the only means of approach being 
through the two resounding green baize doors, 
swinging to with a heavy bang the moment 
they were let go. As the change from piano to 
harp . . . had by no means worked a miracle, 
I very shortly betook myself to the book- 
shelves, and seeing a row of octavo volumes 
lettered Theatre de Voltaire, I selected one of 
them and had deposited it in front of the 
music-stand and perched myself upon the stool 
to read it in less time than an ordinary pupil 
would have consumed in getting through the 
first three bars of Ar Hyd y Nos. 

" The play upon which I opened was Zaire. 
There was a certain romance in the situation, 
an interest in the story. ... So I got through 
Zaire, and when I had finished Zaire I proceeded 
to other plays Mdipe, Merope, Algire, Maho- 
met, plays well worth reading, but not so absorb- 
ing as to prevent my giving due attention to 
the warning doors, and putting the book in its 
place, and striking the chords of Ar Hyd y Nos 
as often as I heard a step approaching. 

" But when the dramas of Voltaire were 

Mary Russell Mitford 

exhausted and I had recourse to some neigh- 
bouring volumes the state of matters changed 
at once. The new volumes contained the 
comedies of Moliere, and once plunged into the 
gay realities of this delightful world, all the 
miseries of this globe of ours harp, music- 
books, practisings, and lessons were forgotten. 
... I never remembered that there was such 
a thing as time ; I never heard the warning 
doors ; the only tribulations that troubled me 
were the tribulations of Sganarelle, the only 
lessons I thought about the lessons of the 
' Bourgeois Gentilhomme/ So I was caught ; 
caught in the very act of laughing till I cried 
over the apostrophes of the angry father to the 
galley, in which he is told his son has been 
taken captive, ' Que diable allait-il faire dans 
cette galere ! ' 

" Luckily, however, the person who dis- 
covered my delinquency was one of my chief 
spoilers the husband of our good school mis- 
tress. Accordingly when he could speak for 
laughing, what he said sounded far more like 
a compliment upon my relish for the comic 
drama than a rebuke. I suppose that he spoke 
to the same effect to my father. At all events 
the issue of the affair was the dismissal of the 
poor little harp mistress and a present of a 
cheap edition of Moliere for my own reading/' 


The Gay Realities of Moliere 

And writing in after years Miss Mitford says : 
" I have got the set still twelve little foreign- 
looking books, unbound, and covered with a 
gay-looking pink paper, mottled with red, like 
certain carnations/' 

Miss Mitford tells us in the Introduction to 
one of her works that her father had engaged 
the English teacher Miss Rowden, of whom we 
have already spoken, to act as a sort of private 
tutor a governess out of school hours to his 
young daughter. 

" At the time I was placed under her care," 
writes Mary, " her whole heart was in the drama, 
especially as personified by John Kemble ; and I 
am persuaded that she thought she could in no 
way so well perform her duty as in taking me to 
Drury Lane whenever his name was in the bills. 

" It was a time of great actors Jack Ban- 
nister and Jack Johnstone, Fawcett and Emery, 
Lewis and Munden, Mrs. Davenport, Miss Pope 
and Mrs. Jordan (most exquisite of all) made 
comedy a bright and living art, an art as full 
as life itself of laughter and tears. 

" My enthusiasm for the drama soon equalled 
that of Miss Rowden. . . . There was of course 
a great difference in kind between her pleasure 
and mine ; hers was a critical, mine a childish 
enjoyment ; she loved fine acting, I loved the 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Writing in later years of her pleasure, however 
imperfect then, in the acting of " the glorious 
family of Kemble," she says : <( The fame of 
John Kemble . . . has suffered not a little by 
the contact with his great sister. Besides her 
uncontested and incontestable power Mrs. Sid- 
dons had one advantage not always allowed for 
she was a woman. The actress must always 
be dearer than the actor, goes closer to the 
heart, draws tenderer tears. . . . Add that the 
tragedy in which they were best remembered 
was one in which the heroine must always pre- 
dominate, for Lady Macbeth is the moving 
spirit of the play. But the characters of more 
equality Katherine and Wolsey, Hermione 
and Leontes, Coriolanus and Volumnia, Hamlet 
and the Queen and surely John Kemble may 
hold his own. How often have I seen them in 
those plays ! What would I give to see again 
those plays so acted ! ' 

In the year 1802, when Mary was fourteen 
years of age, her thirst for knowledge was grow- 
ing rapidly. Miss Rowden happened to be read- 
ing Virgil, and Mary longed to be able to read 
it also. " I have just taken a lesson in Latin/' 
she writes to her mother, " but I shall in con- 
sequence omit some of my other business. It 
is so extremely like Italian that I think I shall 
find it much easier than I expected." 


The Gay Realities of Moliere 

" I told you," she says in a letter to her 
father, " that I had finished the Iliad, which I 
admire beyond anything I ever read. I have 
begun the ^Eneid, which I cannot say I admire 
so much. Dry den is so fond of triplets and 
Alexandrines that it is much heavier reading ; 
. . . when I have finished it I shall read the 
Odyssey. ... I am now reading that beautiful 
opera of Metastasio, Themistocles, and when I 
have finished that I shall read Tasso's Jerusalem 
Delivered. His poetry is really heavenly." 

Again she writes, " I went to the library the 
other day with Miss Rowden and brought back 
the first volume of Goldsmith's Animated Nature. 
It is quite a lady's natural history, and ex- 
tremely entertaining. . . . The only fault is its 
length. There are eight volumes. But as I 
read it to myself, and read pretty quick, I shall 
soon get through it. I am likewise reading the 
Odyssey, which I even prefer to the Iliad. I 
think it beautiful beyond comparison." 

Mrs. Mitford was staying in town in the 
summer of 1802, and she writes to her husband : 
" You would have laughed yesterday when 
M. St. Quintin was reading Mary's English 
composition, of which the subject was, ' The 
advantage of a well-cultivated mind ' ; a word 
struck him as needless to be inserted, and which 
after objecting to it he was going to expunge. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Mam Bonette (a pet name), in her pretty meek 
way, urged the necessity of the word used. 
Miss Rowden was then applied to. She and I 
both asserted that the sentence would be in- 
complete without it. St. Quint in, on a more 
deliberate view of the subject, with all the 
liberality which is so amiable a point in his 
character, begged our daughter's pardon, and 
the passage remained as it originally stood." 

A young French girl, Mile. Rose, had 
recently become an inmate of the schoolroom. 
She was an orphan, and her venerable grand- 
parents, who belonged to a noble Bretonne 
family, were now dependent upon her for sup- 
port. The three were to be seen occasionally 
at M. St. Quintin's hospitable supper-parties, 
and on such occasions Rose " always brought 
with her some ingenious straw-plaiting to make 
into fancy bonnets, which were then in vogue. 
. . . She was a pallid, drooping creature, whose 
dark eyes looked too large for her face." She 
now brought her straw-plaiting into the school- 
room and also assisted in teaching French to 
the pupils. 

" About this time a little girl named Betsy, of 
a short, squat figure, plain in face and ill- 
dressed and overdressed, appeared at the school, 
brought by her father. They happened to arrive 
at the same time with the French dancing 


The Gay Realities of Moliere 

master, a marquis of the ancien regime. I never 
saw such a contrast between two men. The 
Frenchman was slim, long and pale, and allow- 
ing always for the dancing-master air, he might 
be called elegant. The Englishman was the 
beau-ideal of a John Bull, portentous in size, 
broad and red of visage, and loud of tongue. 
He did not stay five minutes, but that was time 
enough to strike monsieur with horror . . . 
especially when his first words conveyed an in- 
junction to the lady of the house ' to take care 
that no grinning Frenchman had the ordering 
of his Betsy's feet. If she must learn to dance, 
let her be taught by an honest Englishman/ 

" Poor Betsy ! there she sat, the tears 
trickling down her cheeks, little comforted by 
the kind notice of the governess and the English 
teacher. I made some girlish advances towards 
acquaintanceship which she was too shy or too 
miserable to return. . . . 

' For the present she seemed to have attached 
herself to Mademoiselle Rose. She had crept 
to the side of the young French woman and 
watched her as she wove her straw plaits. She 
had also attempted the simple art with some 
discarded straws, and when mademoiselle had 
so far roused herself as to show her the proper 
way, she soon became an efficient assistant. 

:t No intercourse took place between them. 

Mary Russell Mitford 

Indeed none was possible since neither knew 
a word of the other's language. Betsy was 
silence personified, and poor Mile. Rose was 
now more than ever dejected. An opportunity 
of returning to France had opened to her and 
to her grand-parents, and was passing away. 
The expenses of the journey were beyond her 
means. So she sighed over her straw-plaiting 
and submitted. 

" In the meantime the second Saturday after 
the new pupil's coming to school arrived, and 
with it a summons home to Betsy, who, for 
the first time gathering courage to address our 
good governess, asked ' if she might be trusted 
with the bonnet Mile. Rose had just finished, 
to show her aunt she knew she would like to 
buy that bonnet because mademoiselle had been 
so good as to let her assist in plaiting it/ Our 
good governess ordered the bonnet to be put 
into the carriage, told her the price, called her 
a good child, and took leave of her till Monday. 

" Two hours after, Betsy and her father 
reappeared in the schoolroom. ' Ma'amselle,' 
said he, bawling as loud as he could with the 
view evidently of making her understand him, 
' Ma'amselle, I've no great love for the French, 
whom I take to be our natural enemies. But 
you're a good young woman ; you've been kind 
to my Betsy, and have taught her to make 


The Gay Realities of Moliere 

your fal-lals. She says that she thinks you're 
fretting because you can't manage to take your 
grandfather and grandmother back to France 
again ; so as you let her help you in that other 
handiwork, why you must let her help you in 
this.' Then throwing a heavy purse into her 
lap and catching his little daughter up in his 
arms he departed, leaving poor Mile. Rose too 
much bewildered to speak or to comprehend 
the happiness that had fallen upon her/' 



IN the spring of the year 1802 Dr. Mitford pur- 
chased an old farm-house with its surrounding 
fields amounting to about seventy acres, near 
to the small village of Graseley, which lies about 
three miles to the south of Reading. The house, 
known as Graseley Court, had been built in the 
days of Queen Elizabeth, and it possessed fine 
rooms with ornamental panelling, oriel windows 
and a great oaken staircase with massive balus- 
trades. It had fallen out of repair, and the 
doctor's first plan was to carry out such restora- 
tions only as would make it a comfortable 
dwelling-place for himself and his family. But 
unfortunately he soon abandoned this plan and 
determined to pull down the old house and to 
build upon its site a new and spacious mansion. 
Dr. Mitford had little appreciation of the 
beauty he was destroying, nor did he foresee 
the large sums of money that would be sunk in 
this undertaking. 

Mary's school life came to an end at the close 


Recollections of Old Reading 

of the year 1802, when she had just reached the 
age of fifteen. Her connection, however, with 
Hans Place was not over, for she paid happy 
visits from time to time to the St. Quintins and 
Miss Rowden, going to the London theatres, 
hearing concerts, and seeing interesting society 
under their auspices. 

Her first introduction to the Reading gaieties 
of a grown-up order was to be at the Race Ball 
in August, 1803. " At these balls/' we are told, 
" it was the custom for the steward of the races 
to dance with the young ladies who then came 
out." After alluding to the distress felt by one 
of her companions on having to dance with a 
stranger on such an occasion, Mary writes in 
1802 : "I think myself very fortunate that 
Mr. Shaw Lefevre will be steward next year, 
for by that time I shall hope to know him well 
enough to render the undertaking of dancing 
with him less disagreeable/' 

" The public amusements of the town/' she 
writes, " as I remember them at bonny fifteen 
were sober enough. They were limited to an 
annual visit from a respectable company of 
actors, the theatre being very well conducted 
and exceedingly ill-attended ; to biennial con- 
certs . . . rather better patronized, to almost 
weekly incursions from itinerant lecturers on 
all the arts and sciences, and from prodigies of 


Mary Russell Mitford 

every kind, whether three-year-old fiddlers or 
learned dogs/' 

" The good town of Belford [Reading]/' she 
tells us, ' was the paradise of ill-jointured 
widows and portionless old-maids. They met 
in the tableland of gentility, passing their morn- 
ings in calls at each other's houses and their 
evenings in small tea-parties, seasoned with a 
rubber or a pool, and garnished with a little 
quiet gossiping . . . which their habits re- 
quired. The part of the town in which they 
chiefly congregated, the lady's quarter, was one 
hilly corner of the parish of St. Nicholas, a sort 
of highland district, all made up of short Rows 
and pigmy Places entirely uncontaminated by 
the vulgarity of shops." 

Miss Mitford has given us many a racy de- 
scription of the type of small tradespeople of 
the period. Here is one of them : 

" The greatest man in these parts (I use the 
word in the sense of Louis-le-Gros, not Louis- 
le-Grand) is our worthy neighbour Stephen 
Lane, the grazier ex-butcher of Belford. Noth- 
ing so big hath been seen since Lambert the 
gaoler or the Durham ox. 

" When he walks he overfills the pavement 
and is more difficult to pass than a link of full- 
dressed misses or a chain of becloaked dandies. 
. . . Chairs crack under him, couches rock, 
bolsters groan and floors tremble. . . . 


Recollections of Old Reading 

' Tailors, although he was a liberal and punc- 
tual paymaster, dreaded his custom. It was 
not only the quantity of material that he took, 
and yet that cloth universally called 'broad' 
was not broad enough for him ; it was not only 
the stuff but the work the sewing, stitching, 
plaiting and button-holing without end. The 
very shears grew weary of their labours." 

For a contrast to this personage we have 
" little Miss Philly Firkin the china woman/' 
whose shop stood in a narrow twisting lane 
called Oriel Street. This street was cribbed 
and confined on one side by the remains of an 
old monastic building, and after winding round 
the churchyard of St. Stephens with an awk- 
ward curve it finally abutted upon the market- 
place. So popular was this " incommodious 
avenue of shops " that nobody dreamt of visit- 
ing Belford without desiring to purchase some- 
thing there, so that " horse-people and foot- 
people jostled upon its pavement/' whilst 
" coaches and phaetons ran against each other 
in the road." Of all the shops the prettiest and 
most sought after was that of Miss Philly 

" She herself was in appearance most fit to 
be its inhabitant, being a trim, prim little 
woman, whose dress hung about her in stiff, 
regular folds, very like the drapery of a china 


Mary Russell Mitford 

shepherdess on a mantelpiece, and whose pink 
and white complexion . . . had the same profes- 
sional hue. Change her spruce cap for a wide- 
brimmed hat and the damask napkin which she 
flourished in wiping her wares for a china crook 
and the figure in question might have passed 
for a miniature of the mistress. In one respect 
they differed. The china shepherdess was a 
silent personage. Miss Philadelphia was not ; 
on the contrary, she was reckoned to make . . . 
as good a use of her tongue as any woman, 
gentle or simple, in the whole town of Belford." 

Miss Mitford describes another female shop- 
keeper of those days, " a reduced gentlewoman 
by name Mrs. Martin, who endeavoured to eke 
out a small annuity by letting lodgings at eight 
shillings a week, and by keeping a toyshop. 
The whole stock (of the little shop) fiddles, 
drums, balls, dolls and shuttle-cocks might be 
easily appraised at under eight pounds, includ- 
ing a stately rocking-horse, the poor widow's 
cheval de bataille, which had occupied one side 
of Mrs. Martin's shop from the time of her setting 
up in business, and still continued to keep his 
station, uncheapened by her thrifty customers." 

When a certain Mr. Singleton, we are told, 
was ordained curate of St. Nicholas after taking 
his degrees at college with " respectable medi- 
ocrity " he was attracted by the appearance of 


Recollections of Old Reading 

the rooms above the toyshop, " and there by 
the advice of Dr. Grampound (the Rector) did 
he place himself on his arrival at Belford. He 
occupied the first floor, consisting of the sitting- 
room a pleasant apartment with one window 
abutting on the High Bridge and the other on 
the market-place, also a small chamber behind 
with its tent-bed and dimity furniture/' And 
there the curate continued " to live for full 
thirty years with the selfsame spare, quiet, 
decent landlady and her small serving maiden 
Patty, a demure, civil damsel dwarfed as it 
should seem by constant curtseying. . . . Ex- 
cept for the clock of time, which, however im- 
perceptibly, does still keep moving, everything 
about the little toyshop was at a standstill. 
The very tabby cat, which lay basking on the 
hearth, might have passed for his progenitor of 
happy memory, who took his station there the 
night of Mr. Singleton's arrival ; and the self- 
same hobby-horse still stood rocking opposite 
the counter, the admiration of every urchin 
who passed the door. 

" There the rocking-horse remained, and 
there remained Mr. Singleton, gradually ad- 
vancing from a personable youth to a portly 
middle-aged man/' 

We have already mentioned the frequent 
small fairs that were held in the market-place 
H 97 

Mary Russell Mitford 

from time to time, but the chief event of the 
year in such matters was the Reading Great Fair, 
which took place regularly upon May Day. " It 
was a scene of business as well as of pleasure/' 
writes Mary Mitford, " being not only a great 
market for horses and cattle, but one of the 
principal marts for the celebrated cheese of the 
great dairy counties. . . . Before the actual 
fair day waggon after waggon, laden with the 
round, hard, heavy merchandise, rumbled 
slowly into the Forbury, where the great space 
before the school-house was fairly covered with 
stacks of Cheddar and North Wilts. 

" Fancy the singular effect of piles of cheeses 
several feet high extending over a whole large 
cricket ground, and divided only by narrow 
paths littered with straw, amongst which wan- 
dered chapmen offering a taste of their wares 
to their cautious customers, the country shop- 
keepers (who poured in from every village 
within twenty miles), and to the thrifty house- 
wives of the town. . . . Fancy the effect of this 
remarkable scene, surrounded by the usual 
moving picture of a fair, the fine Gothic church 
of St. Nicholas on one side, the old arch of the 
Abbey and the abrupt eminence called Forbury 
Hill, crowned with a grand clump of trees, on 
the other. . . . When lighted up at night it 
was, perhaps, still more fantastic and attractive, 


Recollections of Old Reading 

when the roars and howlings of the travelling 
wild beasts used to mingle so grotesquely with 
the drums, trumpets and fiddles of the dramatic 
and equestrian exhibitions, and the laugh and 
shout and song of the merry visitors." 

In the year 1804 the building of the large new 
house at Graseley was completed, and it re- 
ceived the name of Bertram House, so called in 
honour of the Mitfords' Norman ancestor, Sir 
Robert Bertram. The doctor's usual extrava- 
gance was shown in the style of its decorations 
and furniture, which were little suited to his 
small and modest family. 

We have visited Bertram House. It is a 
large square white building of little architec- 
tural beauty, but there is beauty in a wide 
verandah standing at the summit of a broad 
flight of stone steps leading up to the entrance, 
which is completely festooned by roses and 
honeysuckles. The house faces spreading lawns 
and gay flower-beds, whilst its approach from 
the lane hard by is beneath an avenue of tall 
limes. Fields stretch far away behind the 
building, their " richly timbered hedgerows 
edging into wild, rude and solemn fir planta- 

Here Mary Mitford passed sixteen years of 
her life, and here she got to know and love not 
only their own beautiful grounds but also 


Mary Russell Mitford 

every turn of the surrounding shady lanes, 
where the first violets and primroses were to 
be found, and delighted in the wide expanse 
of its neighbouring common gay with gorse 
and broom. Many of her pastoral stories are 
connected with this smiling country. 


IN the autumn of the year 1806 Mary Mitford, 
then eighteen years of age, was taken by her 
father for a tour in the north of England with 
a view of introducing her to his relations in 
Northumberland. The head of the family was 
Mitford of Mitford Castle, a fine old Saxon 
edifice that stands on high ground above the 
river Wansbeck at a point where two fords 
meet, and from which circumstance the name 
Mid-ford is derived. 

Miss Mitford speaks in her Recollections of 
" the massive ruins of the castle " as :< the 
common ancestral home of our race and name," 
and tells us "of the wild and daring Wansbeck 
almost girdling it as a moat." 

The castle is about two miles distant from 
Morpeth, and there is a quaint rhyme still 
current in the north-country which runs as 
follows : 

" Midford was Midford ere Morpeth was ane, 
And still shall be Midford when Morpeth is gane." 

Mary Russell Mitford 

At the time of the Norman Conquest it ap- 
pears that the castle and barony were in the 
possession of a certain Robert de Mitford, whose 
only child and heiress was a daughter named 
Sibella. This daughter was given in marriage 
by the Conqueror to one of his knights Sir 
Robert Bertram who had fought in the battle 
of Hastings. It seems that there is a curious 
entry respecting this same knight in a contem- 
porary document written in Norman French to 
the effect that Sir Robert Bertram estoit tort 
(crooked). One would like to know if the 
Saxon maid was happy with her deformed 
husband, but the old chronicles are of course 
silent on that subject. 1 

It was on the 20th day of September (1806) 
that Mary Mitford, together with her father and 
her father's cousin, Mr. Nathaniel Ogle, who 
possessed an estate in Northumberland, started 
upon their northern tour. They travelled to 
London by stage-coach, but performed the rest 
of their journey in Mr. Ogle's private carriage. 
Having changed horses at Waltham Cross and 
again at Wade's Mill, they halted at Royston 
for the first night, and then, continuing their 
journey with various other baitings, reached 
Little Harle Tower in Northumberland a few 
days later. 

1 See Memories, by Lord Redesdale, K.C.B., published 1915. 


A Northern Tour 

Little Harle Tower, which stands in a romantic 
glen through which the Wansbeck flows, was 
to be the headquarters of the Mitfords during 
their tour. It was the property of Lord and 
Lady Charles Murray Aynsley, Lord Charles 
having taken the name of Aynsley on account 
of a large property left to his wife by a relative 
of that name. He was a son of the Duchess of 
Athol. Perhaps the reader may remember his 
appearance in an early chapter of this. work as 
a very bashful young man. Lady Charles was 
a first cousin of Dr. Mitford's. 

Mary writes to her mother from Little Harle 
Tower on September 28th : " I imagine Papa 
has told you all our plans, which are extremely 
pleasant. Lord and Lady Charles stay longer 
in the country on purpose to receive us, and 
have put off their visit to Alnwick Castle that 
they may take us there, as well as to Lord 
Grey's, Colonel Beaumont's and half a dozen 
other places. . . . The post, which never goes 
oftener than three times a week from hence, 
will not allow our writing again till Wednesday, 
when we go to Sir William Lorraine's, and hope 
to get a frank from Colonel Beaumont whom we 
are to meet there." 

This was Mary Mitford's first introduction 
into what is called high society, and the sim- 
plicity of her ordinary life made her specially 
enjoy her new experiences. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

The Beaumonts were people of large property, 
and Mary describes the wonderful attire of 
Mrs. Beaumont, who appeared at the Lor- 
raines' dinner-party (although it was supposed 
to be a small informal gathering) in a lavender 
satin dress covered with Mechlin lace, and whose 
jewels consisted of amethysts of priceless value 
forming a waist-belt, a bandeau, a tiara, arm- 
lets, bracelets, etc. etc. to match. Lady 
Lorraine's dress was quite different. ' Her 
ladyship is a small, delicate woman/' writes 
Mary, " and she wore a plain cambric gown and 
a small chip hat, without any sort of ornament 
either on her head or neck/' 

Mary made mental notes concerning many 
of her new acquaintance. She describes a 
certain Mr. M. as " an oddity from affectation." 
" And I often think," she adds, " that no young 
man affects singularity when he can distinguish 
himself by something better." 

Writing from Kirkley, Mr. Ogle's property, 
on October 8th, Mary says : " We go to-morrow 
to Alnwick and return the same night. I will 
write you a long account of our stately visit 
when I return to Morpeth." 

Alnwick Castle was at that time the abode 
of the Dowager Duchess of Athol, the mother 
of Lord Charles Murray Aynsley. This same 
Duchess was also (in her own right) Baroness 


A Northern Tour 

Strange and Lady of Man. Her husband, the 
third Duke of Athol, had died some thirty years 
before, and ever since his death she seems to 
have enjoyed a position of ever -increasing 
power and authority. 

" To-morrow, " writes Mary, " is expected to 
be a very full day at the Castle on account of 
the Sessions Ball. The ladies the married 
ones I mean go in court dresses without hoops, 
and display their diamonds and finery upon the 


Mary had to make her preparations accord- 
ingly. ' ( You would have been greatly amused," 
she writes, " at my having my hair cut by Lord 
Charles's frisseur, who is by occupation a joiner, 
and actually attended me with an apron covered 
with glue and a rule in his hand instead of 

" Thursday morning we rose early. I wore 
my ball dress, and Lady C. lent me a beautiful 
necklace of Scotch pebbles very elegantly set, 
with brooches and ornaments to match. My 
dress was never the least discomposed during 
the whole day, though we travelled thirty miles 
of dreadful roads to the Castle. Lord Charles's 
horses had been sent on to Framlington (eigh- 
teen miles) the day before, and we took four 
post horses from Cambo to that place. We set 
out at eleven and reached Framlington by two. 

Mary Russell Mitford 

. . . We passed Netherwitten . . . and Swor- 
land, the magnificent seat of the famous Alexan- 
der Davison. I had likewise a good view of the 
beautiful Roadly Craggs, by which the road 
passes, and likewise over some of the moors. 

" The entrance to Alnwick Castle is extremely 
striking. After passing through three massive 
gateways you alight and enter a most magnifi- 
cent hall, lined with servants, who repeat your 
name to those stationed on the stairs ; these 
again re-echo the sound from one to the other, 
till you find yourself in a most sumptuous 
drawing-room of great size and, as I should 
imagine, forty feet in height. This is at least 
rather formidable, but the sweetness of the 
Duchess soon did away every impression but 
that of admiration. We arrived first, and Lady 
Charles introduced me with particular distinc- 
tion to the whole family ; and during the whole 
day I was never for one instant unaccompanied 
by one of the charming Lady Percys, and prin- 
cipally by Lady Emily, the youngest and most 

" We sat down sixty-five to dinner. ... The 
dinner of course was served on plate, and the 
middle of the table was decorated by a sump- 
tuous plateau. I met Sir Charles Monck, my 
cousin of Mitford, and several people I had 
known at Little Harle. After dinner when the 


A Northern Tour 

Duchess found Lady Charles absolutely refused 
to stay all night, she resolved at least that I 
should see the Castle, and sent Lady Emily to 
show me the library, chapel, state bedrooms, 
etc,, and, thinking I was fond of dancing, she 
persuaded Lady C. to go for an hour with her- 
self and family to the Sessions Ball, which was 
held that night. 

" The Duchess is still a most lovely woman, 
and dresses with particular elegance. She wore 
a helmet of diamonds. The young ladies were 
elegantly dressed in white and gold. The 
news of Lord Percy's election arrived after 

" At nine we went to the ball given in the 
town, and the room was so bad and the heat 
so excessive that I determined, considering the 
long journey we had to take, not to dance, and 
refused my cousin Mitford of Mitford, Mr. Selby, 
Mr. Alder, and half a dozen whose names I have 
.forgotten. At half-past ten we took leave of 
the Duchess and her amiable daughters and 
commenced our journey homeward. . . . 

" We went on very quietly for some time 
when we suddenly discovered that we had come 
about six miles out of our way. . . . This so 
much delayed us that it was near seven o'clock 
in the morning before we reached home [Mor- 
pethj. Seventy miles, a splendid dinner and a 


Mary Russell Mitford 

ball all in one day ! Was not this a spirited 
expedition ? ' 

Mary was well placed for enjoyment during 
this tour. " My cousins/' she writes in later 
life, " were acquainted, as it seemed to me, with 
everyone of consequence in the county, and 
were themselves two of the most popular per- 
sons it contained, [so] as the young relative and 
companion of this amiable couple, I saw the 
country and its inhabitants to great advantage." 

Mary mentions two younger sisters of Lady 
Charles Mary and Charlotte Mitford cousins 
of whom she became fond. They often accom- 
panied the travellers in their visiting tours, as 
did also the Aynsleys' only son, whom she speaks 
of as her father's " dear godson, and the finest 
boy you ever saw." 

Writing from Morpeth, where her father's 
uncle, old Mr. Mitford, and her cousins lived, 
she speaks of a plan for a tour in the northern 
part of the county arranged by Sir Charles and 
Lady Aynsley for her entertainment. " W T hen 
I go back to Little Harle," she says, "we shall 
set out for Admiral Roddam's upon the Cheviot 
Hills, Lord Tankerville's and Lord Grey's. . . . 
I am so happy in this opportunity of seeing the 
Cheviot Hills." The tour proved a very pleasant 
and interesting one. The party travelled in a 
coach and four, the road sometimes taking them 


A Northern Tour 

across the summit of the Cheviots and " above 
the clouds." They visited Fallerton and 
Simonsburn and also Hexham her father's 
birthplace finally halting at Alnwick. 

At this time Mary was put into an awkward 
position by her father suddenly quitting her 
and returning in all haste to Reading in order to 
further the Parliamentary election of Mr. Shaw 
Lefevre, thus cancelling all his engagements 
with their relatives and friends. She wrote to 
urge his return, and finally he did so on the 
3rd November, and towards the end of the 
month both father and daughter returned home. 

Late in life, recording the various events of 
her tour in the north, Mary writes : " Years 
many and changeful have gone by since I trod 
those northern braes ; they at whose side I 
stood lie under the green sod ; yet still as I 
read of the Tyne or of the Wansbeck the bright 
rivers sparkle before me, as if I had walked 
beside them but yesterday. I still seem to 
stand with my dear father under the grey walls 
of that grand old abbey church at Hexham 
whilst he points to the haunts of his boyhood. 
Bright river Wansbeck ! How many pleasant 
memories I owe to thy mere name ! ' 



BEFORE quitting the pleasant society of Lord 
and Lady Charles Aynsley we should like to 
introduce an incident in connection with them 
which took place in the month of February, 
1808. This was no less an event than a visit 
from the exiled King Louis XVIII and his 
suite to Lord Charles and his wife at the 
Deanery of Bocking. 

Here we would explain that the post of Dean 
in connection with Bocking Church, which is 
not a cathedral, was of a curious nature. It 
seems that by an old ecclesiastical ordinance 
a set of clergymen were called the Archbishop 
of Canterbury's " Peculiars/' and that his 
Commissary and Head of the Peculiars in 
Essex and Suffolk was constituted Dean of 
Bocking, a post of such dignity that the Dean 
was wholly independent of the Bishop of his 
diocese. 1 

1 See History of the County of Essex, by Thos. Wright, 
published 1836. 


A Royal Visit 

At the time of which we are writing the 
French King was residing at Gosfield Hall, a 
mansion lent to him by the Marquess of Buck- 
ingham upon his arrival in England during the 
previous month of November. There, we are 
told, a mimic court was held in strict accordance 
with Bourbon traditions ; and even the old 
French custom of the King's dining in public 
was preserved. On such occasions the inhabi- 
tants of the surrounding neighbourhood were 
permitted to pass in procession through the 
long dining-room to witness the sight. 

In spite, however, of their courtly ceremonies 
the purses of these royal exiles do not seem to 
have been very full, to judge by the following 
story. It was told some years ago by an old 
Essex woman who could remember when a 
child seeing the King and his attendants out 
walking. The King noticed the child and was 
disposed to give her something, but the royal 
pockets were searched in vain for a coin of any 
kind. At last one of the suite produced a half- 
penny. " I ought to ' have kept that half- 
penny/' remarked the old dame. 

The visit of Louis XVIII to the Bocking 
Deanery, which took place on February i8th, 
is described in a letter from Lady Charles 
Aynsley to her cousin, Mrs. Mitford, to whom 
she also sent a copy of the Chelmsford Chronicle 


Mary Russell Mitford 

of February 26th, which contained a paragraph 
describing the event. 

Fortunately the editors of the Chelmsford 
Chronicle, which has existed for more than one 
hundred and fifty years, have kept an unbroken 
file of its numbers, so that we have been able 
to study the very paragraph in question. Mrs. 
Mitford incorporates the two accounts in a 
letter to her husband, but where certain de- 
tails in this newspaper are omitted, we have 
introduced them between brackets. 

In explanation of an allusion to a severe snow- 
storm which it was feared might prevent the 
royal visit from taking place, we would remark 
that an examination of seyeral numbers of the 
paper prove that the month of February, 1808, 
was marked by a prevalence of violent gales of 
wind and heavy falls of snow. A large number 
of ships are reported to have foundered, sea- 
walls were broken down in many places, and 
the Margate pier totally destroyed. " From 
the extraordinary falls of snow/' writes a jour- 
nalist, " the usual communication between the 
metropolis and the distant parts of the kingdom 
has been nearly impracticable. The Ports- 
mouth mail coach is reported to have lost its 
way in the snowstorm, and many accidents to 
passengers in other mail coaches are related." 
"At Hatfield Peveral," states a writer, 



A Royal Visit 

"twenty sheep and lambs were buried in a 
snow-drift, but were rescued owing to the 
sagacity of the shepherd's dog." A solitary 
sheep elsewhere " remained buried in the snow 
for eight days. When at last dug out it was 
discovered to be actually alive ! It had found 
wurzels in the ground and had fed upon them." 

Mrs. Mitford writes to her husband on 
receiving Lady Charles Aynsley's letter from 
Bocking : 

" Her ladyship has been in a very grand 
bustle, as the King of France, Monsieur (the 
Comte d'Artois), the Duke d'Angouleme, Duke 
de Berry, Duke de Grammont and the Prince 
de Conde, with all the nobles that composed His 
Majesty's suite at Gosfield, dined at the Deanery 
last Thursday. Mr. and Mrs. Pepper (Lady 
Fitzgerald's daughter) were asked to meet him, 
because she was brought up and educated at 
the French Court in Louis XVFs reign ; General 
and Mrs. Milner for the same reason, and 
Colonel, Mrs. and Miss Burgoyne all the party 
quick at languages. 

' The [snow] storms alarmed Lady C. not a 
little, for it prevented the carrier going to town 
in the first instance, and in the second she began 
to fear the King might not be able to come, 
after all the preparations made for him. The 
Milners were so anxious about it that the 
i 113 

Mary Russell Mitford 

General, who commands at Colchester, ordered 
five hundred pioneers to clear the road from 
that city to Bocking. On His Majesty's ap- 
proach the Bocking bells proclaimed it, and on 
driving up, the full military band which Lord 
C. had engaged for -the occasion struck up 
' God save the King ' in the entrance passage. 
In His Majesty's coach were Monsieur [the 
Comte d'Artois] and the Dukes d'Angouleme 
and Berry. [They arrived a little before five 
o'clock, and Lady Charles handed His Majesty 
from his carriage into the drawing-room, and 
introduced the illustrious guest to those friends 
who were invited upon this interesting occasion. 
His Majesty in the most affable and engaging 
manner entered into conversation with every 
individual present.] 

"All stood," continues Mrs. Mitford, "till 
dinner was announced, when our cousin handed 
His Majesty Lord C. walking before him with 
a candle. The King sat at the top of the table 
with Lady C. on his right and Lord C. on his 
left. Mrs. Milner's and Mrs. Pepper's French 
butlers were lent for the occasion. The bill of 
fare was in French, and the King appeared 
well pleased with his entertainment. [The 
French nobility, who compose His Majesty's 
suite, were in full dress and wore the insignia 
of their respective orders.] 



A Royal Visit 

" The company were three hours at dinner, 
and at eight the dessert was placed on the table 
claret and all kinds of French wine, fruit, etc., 
a beautiful cake at the top with ' Vive le Roi de 
France ' baked round it, and the quarterings 
of the French army in coloured pastry, which 
had a novel and pretty effect. The three 
youngest children then entered with white 
satin military sashes over their shoulders (upon 
which were) painted in bronze ' Vive le Roi de 
France Prospefite a Louis dix-huit.' Charles, 
on being asked for a toast, immediately gave 
' The King of France/ which was drunk with 
the utmost sensibility by all present, and one 
of the little girls came up to His Majesty and, 
with great expression, spoke the lines in French, 
composed for the occasion. 

" Louis soon followed the ladies into the 
drawing-room, when again all stood, and 
Lady C. served her royal guest with coffee, 
which being over, she told him that some of 
the neighbouring families were come for a little 
dance in the dining-room and that perhaps His 
Majesty would be seated at cards. He good 
humouredly said he would first go and pay his 
respects in the next room, which was the thing 
she wished ; therefore handed him in, his family 
and nobles following, which was a fine sight for 
those assembled, in all sixty-two. At the 


Mary Russell Mitford 

King's desire she introduced each person to him 
by name, and, on the King's sitting down, the 
band struck up, and Monsieur, who is supposed 
to be the finest dancer in Europe, led off with 
Lady C., who, spite of Lord Charles's horror 
and her own fears for her lame ankle, hopped 
down two country dances with him, and they 
were followed by Charlotte and the Duke 

We have sat in the long dining-room at the 
Deanery where these festivities took place 
more than a hundred years ago. The room is 
evidently little changed, and as we gazed 
around, the whole scene seemed to rise before 
our eyes. We saw the French guests in their 
stars and orders sparkling under the lights of 
the chandeliers, and it seemed almost as if an 
echo of their bright racy talk reached our ears. 



MARY RUSSELL MITFORD had from early youth 
been fond of writing verses upon subjects which 
had taken her fancy. " No less than three 
octavo volumes/' she writes, " had I perpe- 
trated in two years. They had all the faults 
incident to a young lady's verses, and one of 
them had been deservedly castigated by the 
Quarterly." Here she adds in later years the 
following footnote : " This article was for- 
tunate for the writer at a far more important 
moment. Mr. Gifford himself, as I have been 
given to understand, came to feel that however 
well deserved the strictures might be, an attack 
by his great review upon a girl's first book was 
something like breaking a butterfly upon the 
wheel. He made amends by a criticism in a 
very different spirit on the first series of Our 
Village, which was of much service to the work." 
The first volume of poems was published in 
the year 1810 and again with additions in 1811. 
Two more volumes followed soon afterwards. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

In spite of some adverse criticism the poems 
" had had their praises/' writes Miss Mitford, 
" as what young lady's verses have not ? Large 
impressions had gone rapidly off ; we had run 
into a second edition. They had been pub- 
lished in America always so kind to me ! Two 
or three of the shorter pieces had been thought 
good enough to be stolen, and Mr. Coleridge had 
prophesied of the larger one that the authoress 
of ' Blanche ' would write a tragedy/' 

Among the shorter poems was one upon the 
death of Sir John Moore, written on February 
7th, 1809, eight years before the appearance of 
Wolfe's well-known poem. It does not equal 
that poem in merit ; but the following lines, 
which close the dirge, seem to us to bear the 
true ring of poetry : 

" No tawdry 'scutcheons hang around thy tomb, 
No hired mourners wave the sabled plume, 
No statues rise to mark the sacred spot, 
No pealing organ swells the solemn note. 

A hurried grave thy soldiers' hands prepare 
Thy soldiers' hands the mournful burthen bear ; 
The vaulted sky to earth's extremest verge 
Thy canopy ; the cannon's roar thy dirge." 

Mary was only twenty-one years of age when 
she wrote these lines, and there is another poem 
belonging to the same period that is worthy 
of quotation entitled " Westminster Abbey/' 


Plays and Poetry 

When viewing the tombs in Poets' Corner she 
writes : 

' The brightest union Genius wrought 
Was Garrick's voice and Shakespeare's thought." 

About this same time Miss Mitford wrote a 
narrative poem entitled " Christina " which 
had good success, especially in America, where 
it passed through several editions. 

Coleridge's prophecy that the author of 
" Blanche " would write a tragedy was fulfilled 
eventually, but in the meantime her taste for 
the drama, stimulated when a school-girl by 
Moliere's inimitable plays, was now being further 

"Every third year," writes Mary, "a noble 
form of tragedy, one with which women are 
seldom brought in contact, fell in my way. Dr. 
Valpy, the master of Reading School . . . had 
wisely substituted the representation of one of 
the stern Greek plays [given in the original 
language] for the speeches and recitations for- 
merly delivered before the heads of certain 
colleges of Oxford at their triennial visitations. 1 

" Many of the old pupils will remember the 
effect of these performances, complete in 
scenery, dresses and decorations, and remark- 

1 Dr. Valpy was thus the pioneer of an important move- 
ment to be adopted in later years by our great Universities. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

able for the effect produced, not only on the 
actors, but on an audience, of which a consider- 
able portion was new alike to the language and 
the subject. It is no offence to impute such 
ignorance to the mayor and aldermen of that 
day who in their furred gowns formed part of 
the official visitors, or to the mammas and 
sisters of the performers, who might plead the 
privilege of sex for their want of learning. 

: ' For myself, as ignorant of Latin or of Greek 
as the smuggest alderman or slimmest damsel 
present, I had my own share in the pageant. 
In spite of all remonstrance the dear Doctor 
would insist on my writing the authorised 
account of the play the grand official critique 
which filled I know not how many columns of 
The Reading Mercury, and was sent east, west, 
north and south wherever mammas and grand- 
mammas were found. Of course it was neces- 
sary to mention everybody and to commit all 
the injustice which belongs to a forced equality 
by praising some too little and some too much. 
The too little was more frequent than the too 
much, for the boys, as a body, did act marvel- 
lously, especially those who filled the female 
parts, making one understand how the ungentle 
sex might have rendered the Desdemonas and 
the Imogens in James's day. . . . One circum- 
stance only a little injured the perfect grouping 


Plays and Poetry 

of the scene. The visitation occurred in October, 
not long after the conclusion of the summer 
holidays, and between cricket and boating and 
the impossibility of wearing gloves . . . our 
Helens and Antigones exhibited an assortment 
of sunburnt fists that might have become a 
tribe of Red Indians. . . . Sophocles is Sophocles 
nevertheless ; and seldom can his power have 
been more thoroughly felt than in these per- 
formances at Reading School. 

" The good Doctor," she continues, " full of 
kindness, and far too learned for pedantry, 
rewarded my compliance with his wishes in the 
way I liked best, by helping me to enter into 
the spirit of the mighty masters who dealt forth 
these stern Tragedies of Destiny. He put into 
my hands le Pere Brumoy's ' Theatre des 
Grecs/ and other translations in homely French 
prose, where the form and letter were set forth, 
untroubled by vexatious attempts at English 
verse grand outlines for imagination to colour 
and fill up." 

In the month of May, 1809, Mary was staying 
in Hans Place with her friend Miss Rowden, 
who had become the Head of the school on the 
retirement of Monsieur and Madame St. Quin- 
tin ; these latter, however, still continued to 
live in Hans Place although in a different 
house. Mary went much into society with her 


Mary Russell Mitford 

kind friends, and greatly enjoyed frequent visits 
to the theatre. 

She writes on June 4th to her mother : "I 
had not time to tell you [yesterday] how very 
much I was gratified at the Opera House on 
Friday evening. I dined at the St. Quintins', 
and we proceeded to take possession of our very 
excellent situation, a pit-box near the stage. 
The house was crammed to suffocation. Young 
is an admirable actor ; I greatly prefer him to 
Kemble, whom I had before seen in the same 
character (Zanga in The Revenge}. . . . Billing- 
ton, Braham, Bianchi, Noldi, Bellamy and 
Siboni sang after the play, and the amateurs 
were highly gratified. But my delight was yet 
to come. The dancing of Vestris is indeed per- 
fection. The ' poetry of motion ' is exemplified 
in every movement, and his Apollo-like form 
excels any idea I had ever formed of manly 

This grand performance, it seems, was for 
Kelly's benefit. Kelly was a popular singer of 
his day, and was also a composer of music. He 
happened in addition to be a wine merchant, 
and Sheridan called him " a composer of wine 
and importer of music." 

Besides visits to the Opera House and 
theatres Mary describes expeditions to the 
Royal Academy, then at Somerset House, to 


Plays and Poetry 

the Exhibition of Water Colours in Spring 
Gardens, and to the Panorama, where she saw 
" a most admirable representation of Grand 
Cairo, taken from drawings by Lord Valentia." 
She also gives full particulars of a grand ball 
given in a mansion where five splendid rooms 
opened into each other ; and there were up- 
wards of three hundred people. " The chalked 
floors and Grecian lamps/' she says, " gave it 
the appearance of a fairy scene, which was still 
further heightened by the beautiful exotics 
which almost lined these superb apartments/' 

It is curious to note that in those days 
Bedlam was looked upon as one of the sights 
of London, to which both foreigners and pro- 
vincial visitors were taken as a matter of course. 
In her last letter from town Mary says : " To- 
morrow we go first to Bedlam, then to St. 
James's Street to see the Court people, and 
then I think I shall have had more than enough 
of sights and dissipation/' 



AMONG the many names of well-known people 
that occur in Miss Mitford's letters of this period 
is that of Cobbett, to whom she had addressed 
one of her early odes. He was an intimate 
friend of her father's, and we are told that some 
of his letters to the Doctor " are written enig- 
matically and evidently with a view to secrecy, 
whilst others, on the contrary, express his senti- 
ments as openly as did the ' Porcupine/ ' In 
these latter the violent denunciations of the 
King and the Government, and indeed of all 
persons in authority, comically recall to the 
mind of the reader the admirable skit upon 
Cobbett in the Rejected Addresses. His letters 
to the Doctor usually conclude with the words, 

" God bless you, and d the ministers ! ' 

Miss Mitford describes Cobbett as " a tall, 
stout man, fair and sunburnt, with a bright 
smile and an air compounded of the soldier and 
the farmer, to which his habit of wearing an 
eternal red waistcoat contributed not a little." 


A Chosen Correspondent 

Mary's attitude towards politics throughout her 
life was naturally influenced by her surround- 
ings ; but her admiration for Cobbett was 
caused specially by his love of animals and 
love of rural scenery, in which she so warmly 

After a while an estrangement arose between 
the two families through some misunderstand- 
ing, but Mary continued to admire Cobbett's 
Stirling qualities. Writing of him some years 
later she remarks : " He was a sad tyrant, as 
my friends the democrats sometimes are. Ser- 
vants and labourers fled before him. And yet 
with all his faults he was a man one could not 
help liking. . . . The coarseness and violence 
of his political writings and conversations 
almost entirely disappeared in his family circle, 
and were replaced by a kindness, a good humour 
and an enjoyment in seeing and promoting the 
happiness of others. ... He was always what 
Johnson would have called ' a very pretty 
hater ' ; but since his release from Newgate he 
has been hatred itself. . . . [May] milder 
thoughts attend him," she adds : " he has my 
good wishes and so have his family/' 

Another political name occurring in Miss 
Mitford's correspondence is that of Sir Francis 
Burdett, the well-known leader of reform and 
exposer of abuses. Mary writes on March 28th, 


Mary Russell Mitford 

1810 : " If the House of Commons send Sir 
Francis to the Tower I should not much like 
anyone that I loved to be a party in it, for the 
populace will not tamely submit to have their 
idol torn from them, and especially for defend- 
ing the rights and liberties of the subject. As 
to Sir Francis himself, I don't think either he 
or Cobbett would much mind it. They would 
proclaim themselves martyrs in the cause of 
liberty, and the ' Register ' would sell better 
than ever/' 

It was in the spring of this same year when 
visiting London that Mary was first introduced 
to Sir William Elford, a friend of her father's, 
although totally opposed to him in politics. 
Sir William belonged to an old Devonshire 
family, and was Recorder for Plymouth, which 
borough he had represented in Parliament for 
many years. He was, moreover, a man of cul- 
tivated tastes and of much refinement. His 
interest in Miss Mitford seems to have com- 
menced from the perusal of some of her early 
verses shown to him by her father. 

Describing their first acquaintance in later 
years to a friend, Mary said : " Sir William had 
taken a fancy to me, and I became his child- 
correspondent. Few things contribute more to 
that indirect after-education, which is worth 
all the formal lessons of the schoolroom a thou- 


A Chosen Correspondent 

sand times told, than such good-humoured con- 
descension from a clever man of the world to 
a girl almost young enough to be his grand- 
daughter. I owe much to that correspondence. 
... Sir William's own letters were most charm- 
ing full of old-fashioned courtesy, of quaint 
humour, and of pleasant and genial criticism on 
literature and on art." 1 

Sometimes he would send Mary a few verses 
he had written upon some congenial subject. 
Amongst these occur the following lines, com- 
posed after witnessing a performance of Mrs. 
Siddons in the Plymouth theatre : 

" Her looks, her voice, her features so agree, 
Uniting all in such fine harmony, 
That from her voice the blind her looks declare, 
And in her sparkling eyes the deaf may hear." 

In one of his early letters to Mary he re- 
marks : " Pray never refrain from writing much 
because you want time and inclination^ to read 
over what you have written. I would a thou- 
sand times rather see what falls from your pen 
naturally and spontaneously than the most 
polished and beautiful composition that ever 
went to the press, and so would you I doubt 
not from your correspondents. . . . Pope's 
maxim (if it is his) that ' easy writing is not 

1 See Yesterdays with Authors, by James T. Fields. 
K 129 

Mary Russell Mitford 

easily written ' is certainly true with respect 
to what is intended for the world . . . but is 
utterly false as applied to familiar writing, of 
which his own letters pretended to be warm 
from the brain, but in reality polished and 
revised on publication are a striking proof. 
Write away then, my dear, as fast as you can 
drive your quill, and abuse Miss Seward as 
much as you please/' 

These words call to mind the same kind of 
advice given by the good " Daddy " Crisp about 
forty years earlier to the young Fanny Burney : 
" Let this declaration serve once for all, that 
there is no fault in an epistolary correspondence 
like stiffness and study. Dash away whatever 
comes uppermost ; the sudden sallies of imagi- 
nation clap'd down on paper, just as they arise, 
are worth folios, and have all the warmth and 
merit of that sort of nonsense that is eloquent 
in love/' 

Crisp had greater powers as a critic than Sir 
William Elford, but Sir William had qualities 
that specially suited the case in question. He 
supplied a channel through which Mary could 
express and think out her views on all kinds of 
topics, always secure of a kind and friendly 
listener, and one whose judgment she valued. 
Being an only child and with few intimate 
female friends, this was a great boon, and we 


A Chosen Correspondent 

owe to their correspondence a fuller knowledge 
of Mary's mind in its development from youth 
to womanhood than we could have obtained 
by any other means. 

The allusion to Miss Seward, the " Swan of 
Lichfield," by Sir William refers to the following 
passage in one of Mary's letters : " Have you 
seen Miss Seward's Letters ? The names of her 
correspondents are tempting, but alas ! though 
addressed to all the eminent literati of the last 
half-century, all the epistles bear the signature 
of Anna Seward. . . . Did she not owe some 
of her fame, think you, to writing printed books 
at a time when it was quite as much as most 
women could do to read them ? . . . I was 
always a little shocked at the sort of reputation 
she bore in poetry. Sometimes affected, some- 
times fade, sometimes pedantic and sometimes 
tinselly, none of her works were ever simple, 
graceful, or natural. Her letters . . . are 
affected, sentimental and lackadaisical to the 
highest degree. Who can read a page of Miss 
Seward's writings on any subject without find- 
ing her out at once [as] the pedantic coquette 
and cold-hearted sensibility monger ? ' 

" Anna Seward," continues Miss Mitford, 
" sees nothing to admire in Cowper's letters 
in letters (the playful ones of course I mean) 
which would have immortalized him had the 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Task never been written, and which (much as I 
admire the playful wit of the two illustrious 
namesakes Lady M. W. and Mrs. Montagu) are 
in my opinion the only perfect specimens of 
epistolary composition in the English language. 
. . . They have to me, at least, all the proper- 
ties of grace ; a charm now here, now there ; a 
witchery rather felt in its effect than perceived 
in its cause/' 

" The attraction of Horace Walpole's letters/' 
she adds, " is very different, though almost 
equally strong. The charm which lurks in them 
is one for which we have no term, and our 
Gallic neighbours seem to have engrossed both 
the word and the quality. Elles sont piquantes 
to the highest degree. If you read but a sen- 
tence you feel yourself spellbound till you have 
read the volume/' 

On another occasion Mary discusses the merits 
of Pope. She holds the same opinion as that 
of Sir William respecting his letters " which/' 
as she says, " affect to be unaffected and work 
so hard to seem quite at their ease." " Pope 
is," she remarks, " even in his poetry, of a 
lower flight and a weaker grasp than his pre- 
decessor [Dryden]. . . . They must be born 
without an ear who can prefer the melodious 
monotony of Pope to the stateliness, the ease, 
the infinite variety of Dryden. I should as soon 


A Chosen Correspondent 

think of preferring the tinkling guitar to the 
full-toned organ ! 

". . . In short, Pope is in the fullest sense of 
the word a mannerist. When you have said 
' The Dunciad, 1 ' The Eloise ' and ' The Rape 
of the Lock ' you can say nothing more but 
' The Rape of the Lock/ ' The Dunciad ' and 
' The Eloise/ I have some notion/' she adds, 
" that you are of a different opinion, and I am 
very glad of it ; I love to make you quarrel 
with me. Nothing is so tiresome as acquies- 
cence ; I would at any time give a dozen civil 
Yes's for one spirited No, especially in corre- 
spondence, which is exactly like a game of 
shuttle-cock, and would be at an end in an in- 
stant if both battledores struck the same way/' 

In another letter, writing of her special 
favourites amongst Shakespeare's plays, she 
remarks: " And last, not least, Much Ado 
About Nothing. The Beatrice of this play is 
indeed my standard of female wit and almost 
of female character ; nothing so lively, so clever, 
so unaffected and so warm-hearted ever trod 
this workaday world. Benedick is not quite 
equal to her ; but this, in female eyes, is no 
great sin. Shakespeare saw through nature, 
and knew which sex to make the cleverest. 
There's a challenge for you ! Will you take up 
the glove ? ' 



IN the month of June, 1814, that memorable 
period in our history, Mary Mitford was again 
visiting her friends the St. Quintins in Hans 

London was then swarming with crowned 
heads, victorious generals and distinguished 
foreigners of all kinds, to rejoice with us upon 
the downfall of Napoleon. 

Even the ultra- Whigs, to which Mary and her 
family belonged, had long ceased to entertain 
any hopes of him as a benefactor to the human 
race, and she had declared to Sir William 
Elford in 1812 that she " was no well-wisher 
to Napoleon the greatest enemy to democracy 
that ever existed ." 

On the i8th June Mary and her friends went 
to the office of the Morning Chronicle (Mr. 
Perry, the editor, being an intimate friend of 
the Mitfords) to behold the grand procession of 
royal personages to the Merchant Taylors Hall. 
Writing on the following day to her mother, she 

The March of Mind 

says : " The Chronicle will tell you much more 
of the procession than I can . . . suffice it to 
say that we got there well and pleasantly, and 
saw them all most clearly ; that the Emperor 
and Duchess are much alike she a pretty 
woman, he a fine-looking man both with fair 
complexions and round Tartar faces no ex- 
pression of any sort except affability and good- 
humour ; that the King of Prussia is a much 
more interesting and intelligent-looking man, 
though not so handsome ; and that the Regent 
got notably hissed, in spite of his protecting 
presence/' And writing a few days later she 

" Yesterday I went, as you know, to the 
play with papa, and on our road thither had a 
Very great pleasure in meeting Lord Wellington, 
just arrived in London, and driving to his own 
house in an open carriage and six. We had an 
excellent sight of him, so excellent that I should 
know him again anywhere ; and it was quite 
refreshing after all those parading foreigners, 
emperors, and so forth to see an honest English 
hero, with a famous Mitford nose, looking quite 
happy, without any affectation of bowing or 
seeming affable. He is a very fine countenanced 
man, tanned and weather-beaten, with good 
dark eyes. . . . Very few of the populace knew 
him, but the intelligence spread like wildfire, 

Mary Russell Mitford 

and Piccadilly looked like a hive of bees in 
swarming time/' 

Writing to Sir William Elford in July, 1815, 
Mary apologises for not having sent him, as she 
had proposed to do, a facsimile copy of Louis le 
Desire s letter to Lady Charles Aynsley. " As 
kings of France are come in fashion again/' she 
remarks, " I hastened to repair my omission by 
copying as well as I was able the aforesaid 
epistle. ... I heard a great deal respecting 
that very good but weak and bigoted man from 
a French lady, Madame de Gourbillon, who was 
one of the favourite attendants of his late wife. 
His memory exceeds . even that of our own 
venerable king. If you mention the slightest, 
the least remarkable fact in natural history, in 
the belles-lettres, in history, or anything he will 
say, ' Ay, Buffon, or La Harpe, or Vertot speaks 
of it (quoting the very words) in such a volume, 
such a chapter, such a page and such a line/ 
He is always correct, even to a monosyllable ! ' 

This recalls to one's mind the old aphorism 
applied to the Bourbons : " They forgot nothing 
and they learnt nothing." 

" Another fact," continues Mary, " which I 
ascertained respecting the King of France is 
that he is afraid of my friend la Lectrice de la 
feue Reine as ever child was of its schoolmistress, 
and really it is no impeachment to his courage, 


The March of Mind 

for I am not at all sure that Buonaparte himself 
could stand against her. . . . Papa and she 
regularly quarrelled once a day on the old 
cause, ' France versus England/ varied occasion- 
ally into ' French versus English/ for she very 
reasonably used to attack Papa for his utter 
want of French, in which, I believe, he scarcely 
knows oui from non ; and he, with no less reason, 
would retort on her want of English, she having 
condescended to vegetate twelve years in this 
island of fogs and roast beef without being able 
at the end of that time to distinguish ' How do 
you do ? ' from ' Very well, I thank you ! ' 

During Miss Mitford's stay in town in the 
summer of 1814 she had an interesting and un- 
looked-for experience of which mention is made 
in the Morning Chronicle of June 25th. 

The writer of the article remarks : " The 
friends of the British and Foreign School Society 
dined together yesterday at the Freemasons' 
Tavern. The Marquis of Lansdowne took the 
chair, supported by the Dukes of Kent and 
Sussex, the Earls of Darnley and Eardley, and 
several other eminent persons. The health of 
the Chairman and Vice-Presidents was drunk, 
and then that of the female members of the 
Society. After this a poetical tribute of Miss 
Mitford's was sung, and ' Thanks to Miss Mit- 
ford ' was drunk with applause." 

Mary Russell Mitford 

The following lines occur in the poem :-- 
"The mental world was wrapt in night. 

Oh, how the glorious dawn unfold 
The brighter day that lurk'd behind ? 

The march of armies may be told, 
But not the march of mind." 

Mary was present on the occasion, being 
seated, together with her friends, in the gallery 
of the hall. She writes to her mother : "I did 
not believe my ears when Lord Lansdowne, with 
his usual graceful eloquence, gave my health. 
I did not even believe it when my old friend the 
Duke of Kent, observing that Lord Lansdowne's 
voice was not always strong enough to pene- 
trate the depths of that immense assembly, 
reiterated it with stentorian lungs. Still less 
did I believe my ears when it was drunk with 
' three times three/ a flourish of drums and 
trumpets from the Duke of Kent's band, and 
the unanimous thundering and continued 
plaudits of five hundred people. I really thought 
it must be [for] Mr. Whitbread, and though I 
wondered how he could be ' fair and amiable ' 
I still thought it him till his health was really 
drunk and he rose to make the beautiful speech 
of which you have only a very faint outline in 
the Chronicle." This speech was made a propos 


The March of Mind 

of a toast. " The Cause of Education through- 
out the World," Mr. Whitbread remarking, 
" Miss Mitford has designated it ' The March 
of Mind/ 

Whilst " Mary Mitford was thus growing in 
fame, her father, through his many specula- 
tions, was frequently involved in money diffi- 
culties. In the year 1811 it seems he was 
actually detained in the debtors' prison, and 
arrangements had to be made for the sale of 
the pictures at Bertram House in order to obtain 
money for his release. His wife, who in her 
warm affection was almost too forbearing, 
wrote to him : " I know you were disappointed 
in the sale of the pictures ; but, my love, if we 
have less wealth than we hoped, we shall not 
have less affection ; these clouds may blow 
over more happily than we expected/' 

Again she writes : " As to the cause of our 
present difficulties it avails not how they 
originated. The only question is how they can 
be most speedily and effectually put an end to. 
I ask for no details which you do not voluntarily 
choose to make. A forced confidence my whole 
soul would revolt at/' 

Mary writes to her father on the occasion 
with the same self-sacrificing love, but, it seems 
to us, with more judgment. She suggests that 
they should let Bertram House, sell books, fur- 


Mary Russell Mitford 

niture, everything possible to clear their debts, 
and then retire to some cottage in the country 
or to humble lodgings in London. Then she 
goes on to say : " Where is the place in which, 
whilst we are all spared to each other, we should 
not be happy ? . . . Tell me if you approve 
my scheme, and tell me, I implore you, my 
most beloved father, the full extent of your 
embarrassments. This is no time for false 
delicacy on either side, I dread no evil but sus- 
pense. . . . Whatever those embarrassments 
may be, of one thing I am certain that the 
world does not contain so proud, so happy, or 
so fond a daughter. I would not exchange my 
father, even though we toiled together for our 
daily bread, for any man on earth, though he 
could pour the gold of Peru into my lap." 

Miss Mitford's biographers have justly cen- 
sured her father's evil courses, some considering 
him as altogether worthless ; but surely there 
must have been many redeeming qualities in 
one who called forth such love from such a 
daughter ? 

For the time being the crisis described was 
averted ; but in 1814 Dr. Mitford was again in 
great difficulties, caused by his speculations in 
two enterprises that proved failures one in 
coal, the other in a new method for lighting and 
heating houses, invented by the Marquis de 


The March of Mind 

Chavannes, a French refugee. In this latter 
scheme the doctor actually invested 5000, and 
when the crash came he lost more money in 
carrying on a protracted law suit in the French 
courts in the vain hope of forcing the penniless 
nobleman to restore his lost property. 

Mary, writing of her father's money losses in 
later life, says : " He attempted to increase his 
own resources by the aid of cards (he was un- 
luckily one of the finest whist players in Eng- 
land) or by that other terrible gambling, which 
. . . even when called by its milder term of 
speculation is that terrible thing gambling still." 

Early in the year 1814 Mary Mitford received 
a proof of the warm approval accorded to her 
poems in America, which gave her heartfelt 

Mrs. Mitford, writing of the event to her 
husband, says : 

" With your letter and the newspaper this 
morning arrived a small parcel for our darling, 
directed to Miss Mary Russell Mitford. . . . 
This little packet contained, what do you 
think ? No less than Narrative Poems on the 
Female Character in the various Relations of 
Life, by Mary Russell Mitford. Printed at 
New York, and published by Eastburn, Kirk 
& Co., No. 86 Broadway. The volume is a 
small pocket size, well printed and elegantly 


Mary Russell Mitford 

bound, and the following is a copy of the letter 
which accompanied it across the Atlantic : 


October 23, 1813. 

We have the honour of transmitting to 
you a copy of our second edition of your admir- 
able Narrative Poems on the Female Character. 
All who have hearts to feel and understandings 
to discriminate must earnestly wish you health 
and leisure to complete your plan. 

We shall be gratified by a line acknowledging 
the receipt of the copy through the medium of 
our friends Messrs. Longman & Co. ... 

We have the honour to be, madam, 

Your most obedient servants, 


Mary writes to her father on the receipt of 
the parcel : " You will easily imagine that I 
was flattered and pleased with my American 
packet ; but even you can scarcely imagine 
how much. I never was so vain of anything in 
my whole life. Only think of their having 
printed two editions (for the words ' second 
edition ' are underscored in their letter) before 
last October ! " 

The recognition which she received in America 


The March of Mind 

so early in her career was never forgotten, and 
she used to say in after life, " It takes ten years 
to make a literary reputation in England, but 
America is wiser and bolder and dares to say at 
once, ' This is fine.' " 


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IN a letter to Sir William Elford dated January, 
1812, Mary remarks : "I have lived so little 
with girls of my own age, and have been so 
much accustomed to think papa my pleasantest 
companion and mamma my best friend that . . . 
I have escaped unscathed from all the charming 
folly and delectable romance of female intimacy 
and female confidence." Then going on to 
speak of the usual school training of girls at that 
period she remarks : " I must observe that in 
this educating age everything is taught to 
women except that which is perhaps worth all 
the rest the power and the habit of thinking. 
Do not misunderstand me. ... I would only 
wish that while everything is invented and in- 
culcated that can serve to amuse, to occupy, or 
adorn youth youth which needs so little amuse- 
ment or ornament ! something should be in- 
stilled that may add pleasure and respectability 
to age." 

About this time Sir William paid a visit to 


Versatility and Playfulness 

Bath. Mary writes : " What says Bath of 
Rokeby? But Bath, I suppose, is, as to litera- 
ture, politics and fashion, the echo of London. 
Be that as it may, I am very happy that you 
have arrived there, both because it brings us a 
step nearer, and because it so comfortably rids 
you of the horrors of solitude. ' 0, la Solitude 
est une belle chose ; mais ilfaut avoir quelqu'une a 
qui Von puisse dire, t La Solitude est une belle 
chose I ' ... I most sincerely hope that we 
shall meet this spring in London . . . and that 
we shall have the pleasure of renewing (I might 
almost say commencing) our personal acquaint- 
ance. You will find just the same plain, awk- 
ward, blushing thing whom you profess to re- 
member. ... I talk to you with wonderful 
boldness upon paper, and while we are seventy 
miles distant ; but I doubt whether I shall say 
three sentences to you when we meet, because 
the ghosts of all my impertinent letters will 
stare me in the face the moment I see you/' 

A little later on Sir William paid a visit to 
the Mitfords at Bertram House, and Mary 
writes of him : " He is the kindest, cleverest, 
warmest-hearted man in the world." Some of 
her friends fancied that, in spite of the great 
discrepancy in their ages, her partiality might 
possibly lead to a union between the friends. 
To their surmise Mary answers : "I shall not 

Mary Russell Mitford 

marry Sir William Elf or d, for which there is 
a remarkably good reason, the aforesaid Sir 
William having no sort of desire to marry me. 
. . . He has an outrageous fancy for my letters, 
and marrying a favourite correspondent would 
be something like killing the goose with the 
golden egg." 

In one of Sir William's letters he had com- 
plained of Miss Mitford's writing being some- 
what illegible, to which she responds : " So, my 
dear friend, you cannot make out my writing ! 
And my honoured father cannot help you ! 
Really this is too affronting ! The two persons 
in all the world who have had the most of my 
letters cannot read them ! Well, there is the 
secret of your liking them so much. Obscurity 
is sometimes a great charm. You just make 
out my meaning and fill it up by the force of 
your own imagination. The outline is mine, 
the colouring your own. So much the better 
for me." 

Writing on a hot summer's day, she says : 
" I have been solacing myself for this week past 
' taking mine ease ' in a hay-cock left solely for 
my accommodation, where Mossy and I repair 
every morning to perform between us the opera- 
tion of reading a good book, I turning the leaves 
and he going to sleep over it. It is ... the 
most delightful hay-cock in the world, in a snug 


Versatility and Playfulness 

little nook ; nothing visible but lawn and plan- 
tation ; whilst breathing the odours of the firs, 



whose fragrance this wet summer has been past 
anything I could have conceived/' 

Mossy was the name of her dog. Throughout 
her life Mary Mitford was much attached to 

Mary Russell Mitford 

dogs, and she was generally accompanied in her 
rambles by some special favourite. Sometimes 
it was a beautiful greyhound one of her father's 
coursers that had been given to her. 

She concludes one of her letters by remark- 
ing : "I have nothing more to tell you, except 
that I have taken a new pet the most sagacious 
donkey that ever lived. She lets nobody ride 
her follows me everywhere, even indoors when 
she can and is really a wonderful animal. Her 
favourite caress is to have her ears stroked. 
Shakespeare has noticed this in the Midsummer 
Night's Dream when Titania tells Bottom that 
she will give him musk-roses and ' stroke thy 
fair, large ears, my gentle joy/ 

In this same letter Mary speaks of some of 
the singers she had heard recently in London. 
' I hope you like Braham's singing/' she says, 
' though I know among your scientific musi- 
cians it is a crime of Use majeste to say so ; but 
he is the only singer I ever heard in my life who 
conveyed to my very unmusical ears any idea 
of the expression of which music is susceptible ; 
no one else joins any sense to the sound. They 
may talk of music as ' married to immortal 
verse ' ; but if it were not for Braham they 
would have been divorced long ago. . . . 
Moore's singing has, indeed, great feeling ; but 
then his singing is not much beyond a modu- 


Versatility and Playfulness 

lated sigh though the most powerful sigh in 
the world." 

And speaking of the actors of the period, she 
says : " Of all that I have seen nothing has 
afforded me half so much delight as Miss O'Neil. 
She broke my heart, and charmed me beyond 
expression by showing me that I had a heart 
to break, a fact I always before rather doubted, 
having been till I saw her as impenetrable to 
tragedy as Punch and his wife or any other 
wooden-hearted biped. But she is irresistible. 
, . . The manner in which she identifies herself 
with the character exceeds all that I had before 
conceived possible of theatrical illusion. You 
never admire you only weep." 

In another letter she complains of Kemble's 
always declaiming and never speaking in a 
simple and natural manner. (( It does appear 
to me," she says, " that no man can be a perfect 
tragedian who is not likewise a good actor in 
the higher branch of comedy. A statesman not 
at the council board, and a hero when the battle 
is safely ended, would, as it seems .to me, talk 
and walk much in the same way as other people. 
Even a tyrant does not always rave nor a lover 
always whine. . . . That Shakespeare and all 
the writers of Elizabeth's days were of my 
opinion I am quite sure. Nothing is more re- 
markable in their delightful dramas . . . than 


Mary Russell Mitford 

the sweet and natural tone of conversation 
which sometimes relieves the terrible intensity 
of their plots, like a flowery glade in a gloomy 
forest, or a sunbeam streaming [across] a 
winter sky/' She goes on to 'say : " I cannot 
take leave of the drama without adding my 
feeble tribute of regret for the secession of 
Mrs. Siddons. Yet it was better that she should 
quit the stage in undiminished splendour than 
have remained to show the feeble twilight of so 
glorious a day." 

In a letter written during a severe winter we 
find this description of a hoar-frost : " The 
scene has been lovely beyond any winter piece 
I ever beheld ; a world formed of something 
much whiter than ivory as white indeed as 
snow but carved with a delicacy, a lightness, 
a precision to which the mossy, ungrateful, 
tottering snow could never pretend. Rime was 
the architect ; every tree, every shrub, every 
blade of grass was clothed with its pure incrus- 
tations, but so thinly, so delicately clothed that 
every twig, every fibre, every ramification re- 
mained perfect, alike indeed in colour, but dis- 
playing in form to the fullest extent the endless, 
infinite variety of Nature. It is a scene that 
really defies description/' 

Here is a playful letter to Sir William, written 
in August, 1816 : " Pray, my dear friend, were 


Versatility and Playfulness 

you ever a bridesmaid ? I rather expect you 
to say no, and I give you joy of your happy 
ignorance, for I am just now in the very agonies 
of the office, helping to buy and admire wedding 
clothes. . . . The bride is a fair neighbour of 
mine. . . . Her head is a perfect milliner's shop, 
and she plans out her wardrobe much as Phidias 
might have planned the Parthenon. . . . She 
has had no sleep since the grand question of a 
lace bonnet with a plume, or a lace veil without 
one, for the grand occasion came into dis- 

Two months later Mary writes : "I have at 
last safely disposed of my bride. . . . She had 
accumulated on her person so much finery that 
she looked as if by mistake she had put on two 
wedding dresses instead of one [and having wept 
copiously] was by many degrees the greatest 
fright I ever saw in my life. Indeed between 
crying and blushing brides, and bridesmaids too, 
do generally look strange figures. I am sure we 
did, though to confess the truth I really could 
not cry, much as I wished to keep all my neigh- 
bours in countenance, and was forced to hold 
my handkerchief to my eyes and sigh in vain 
for ' ce don de dames que Dieu ne m'a pas donne.' " 

Mary Mitford always enjoyed writing to Sir 
William upon literary matters, as the reader 
knows, and comparing their respective opinions. 

Mary Russell Mitford 

" I am almost afraid to tell you/' she writes, 
"how much I dislike Childe Harold. Not but 
there are very many fine stanzas and powerful 
descriptions ; but the sentiment is so strange, 
so gloomy, so heartless, that it is impossible not 
to feel a mixture of pity and disgust, which all 
our admiration of the author's talents cannot 
overcome. . . . Are you not rather sick now 
pray don't betray me are you not rather sick 
of being one of the hundred thousand confi- 
dants of his lordship's mysterious and secret 
sorrows ? . . . I would rather be the poorest 
Greek whose fate he commiserates than Lord 
Byron, if this poem be a true transcript of his 

In one of her letters she remarks : "I prefer 
the French pulpit oratory to any other part of 
their literature. ... I mean, of course, their old 
preachers Fenelon, Bourdaloue, Massillon and 
Bossuet especially the last, who approaches as 
nearly to the unrivalled sublimity of the sacred 
writings as any writer I have ever met with. 
Oh ! what a contrast between him and our 
dramatic sermonists Mesdames Hawkins and 
Brompton ! I am convinced that people read 
them for the story, to enjoy the stimulus of a 
novel without the name. ... Ah ! they had 
better take South and Blair and Seeker for 
guides, and go for amusement to Miss Edge- 

Versatility and Playfulness 

worth and Miss Austen. By the way, how 
delightful is her Emma, the best, I think, of all 
her charming works." 

" Have you read Pepys' Memoirs ? " she asks 
on another occasion. " I am extremely diverted 
with them, and prefer them to Evelyn's, all to 
nothing. He was too precise and too gentle- 
manly and too sensible by half ; wrote in full 
dress, with an eye if not to the press, at least 
to posthumous reputation. Now this man sets 
down his thoughts in a most becoming deshabille 
does not care twopence for posterity, and 
evidently thinks wisdom a very foolish thing. 
I don't know when any book has amused me so 
much. It is the very perfection of gossiping 
most relishing nonsense/' 

Writing in 1819 she says : " Oh ! but the 
oddest book I have met with is Madame de 
Genlis's new novel Les Parvenus, an imitation 
of Gil -Bias . . . while she sticks to that she is 
very good ; her comic powers are really exceed- 
ingly respectable but she flies off at a tangent 
to her old beaten path of sentimental vice and 
fanatical piety, and sends her heroine to the 
Holy Land as a Pilgrim in the nineteenth cen- 
tury and then fixes her in a Spanish convent ! " 

Now she writes with deep admiration of 
Burns " Burns the sweetest, the sublimest, 
the most tricksy poet who has blest this nether 

Mary Russell Mitford 

world since the days of Shakespeare ! 1 am 
just fresh from reading Dr. Carrie's four volumes 
and Cromak's one, which comprise, I believe, 
all that he ever wrote. . . . Have you lately 
read Dr. Currie's work ? If you have not, pray 
do, and tell me if you do not admire him not 
with the flimsy lackadaisical praise with which 
certain gentle damsels bedaub his Mountain 
Daisy and his Woodlark . . . but with the strong 
and manly feeling which his fine and indignant 
letters, his exquisite and original humour, his 
inimitable pathos must awaken in such a mind 
as yours. Ah, what have they to answer for 
who let such a man perish ? I think there is no 
poet whose works I have ever read who interests 
me so strongly by the display of personal char- 
acter contained in almost everything he wrote 
(even in his songs) as Burns." After speaking 
of " his versatility and his exhaustless imagina- 
tion/' she says : " By the way, my dear Sir 
William, does it not appear to you that versa- 
tility is the true and rare characteristic of that 
rare thing called genius versatility and play- 
fulness ? ' 

Writing to Sir William somewhat hurriedly 
in March, 1817, Mary remarks : " Rather than 
send the envelope blank I will fill it with the 
translation of a pretty allegory of M. Arnault's, 
the author of ' Germanicus.' You must not 

Versatility and Playfulness 

read it if you have read the French, because it 
does not come near to its simplicity. If you 
have not read the French you may read the 
English. Be upon honour/' 

Translation of M. Arnault's lines on his own 
exile : 

' Torn rudely from thy parent bough, 
Poor withered leaf, where roamest thou ? 
I know not where ! A tempest broke 
My only prop, the stately oak ; 
And ever since in wearying change ' 
With each capricious wind I range ; 
From wood to plain, from hilLto dale, 
Borne sweeping on as sweeps the gale, 
Without a struggle or a cry, 
I go where all must go as I ; 
I go where goes the self-same hour 
A laurel leaf or rose's flower ! " 


Miss MITFORD owed to her friendship with Sir 
William Elford her first acquaintance with the 
artist Haydon. Describing in later years to a 
friend how this came about, she said : " An 
amateur painter himself, painting interested 
Sir William particularly, and he often spoke 
much, and warmly, of the young man from 
Plymouth, whose picture of the ' Judgement of 
Solomon ' was then on exhibition in London. 
' You must see it/ said he, ' even if you come 
to town on purpose/ 

" It so happened/' continued Miss Mitford, 
11 that I merely passed through London that 
season . . . and I arrived at the exhibition in 
company with a still younger friend so near the 
period of closing that more punctual visitors 
were moving out, and the doorkeeper actually 
turned us and our money back. I persisted, 
however, assuring him that I only wanted to 
look at one picture, and promising not to detain 
him long/ Whether my;entreaties would have 


From Mansion to Cottage 

carried the point or not I cannot tell, but half 
a crown did ; so we stood admiringly before 
the ' Judgement of Solomon/ I am no great 
judge of painting ; but that picture impressed 
me then, as it does now, as excellent in composi- 
tion, in colour, and in that great quality of tell- 
ing a story which appeals at once to every mind. 
Our delight was sincerely felt, and most enthu- 
siastically expressed, as we kept gazing at the 
picture, and [it] seemed to give much pleasure 
to the only gentleman who remained in the 
room a young and very distinguished-looking 
person, who had watched with evident amuse- 
ment our negotiation with the doorkeeper. . . . 
I soon surmised that we were seeing the painter 
as well as his painting ; and when two or three 
years afterwards a friend took me ... to view 
the ' Entry into Jerusalem/ Haydon's next 
great picture, then near its completion, I found 

I had not been mistaken. 

:< Hay don was at that period a remarkable 
person to look at and listen to. ... His figure 
was short, slight, elastic and vigorous ; his com- 
plexion clear and healthful. . . . But how shall 
I attempt to tell you," she adds, " of his brilliant 
conversation, of his rapid energetic manner, of 
his quick turns of thought as he flew from topic 
to topic, dashing his brush here and there upon 
the canvas ? . . . Among the studies I re- 

Mary Russell Mitford 

marked that day in his apartment was one of 
a mother who had just lost her only child a 
most masterly rendering of an unspeakable 
grief. A sonnet which I could not help writ- 
ing on the sketch gave rise to our long corre- 
spondence, and to a friendship which never 

We have spoken in a recent chapter of the 
Mitfords' great losses of money from time to 
time. These were caused in part by the pro- 
tracted lawsuit carried on by Dr. Mitford 
against the Marquis de Chavannes. But the 
main cause was the doctor's unhappy habits 
of gambling and of speculation. He was " ever 
seeking," we are told, " to augment his income 
by some doubtful investment for which he had 
the tip of some unscrupulous schemer to whose 
class he fell an easy prey." The only remnant 
.of the family property, once so large, which 
Dr. Mitford was unable to touch was a sum of 
I 3 left by Dr. Russell to his daughter and 
Hier offspring. This sum, placed in the funds, 
was happily held in trust by the Mitfords' fast 
1 friend, the Rev. William Harness, and although 
he was applied to from time to time by Mrs. 
Mitford and her daughter to hand it over to the 
-doctor when he was pressed by creditors, Mr. 
Harness steadily refused to do so. Writing to 
Miss Mitford some years later after the death 


From Mansion to Cottage 

of her mother, he says : " That 3000 I con- 
sider as the sheet-anchor of your independence 
. . . and while your father lives it shall never 
stir from its present post in the funds ... 
from whatever quarter the proposition may come 
[to hand it over to him]. I have but one black, 
blank unqualified No for my answer. I do not 
doubt Dr. Mitford's integrity, but I have not 
the slightest confidence in his prudence ; and 
I am fully satisfied that if these three thousand 
and odd hundreds of pounds were placed at his 
disposal to-day they would fly the way so many 
other thousands have gone before them to- 
morrow." 1 

In the spring of 1820 the family were forced 
to quit Bertram House, at which period we are 
told " the doctor must have been all but penni- 
less," and there could have been " nothing 
between the father and mother and hopeless 
destitution but the genius and industry of the 
daughter." Happily her courage and her affec- 
tion never failed. But she could not quit the 
house which had been her home for sixteen 
years without sorrow. " It nearly broke my 
heart," she writes. " What a tearing up of the 
roots it was ! The trees and fields and sunny 
hedgerows, however little distinguished by pic- 

1 See Life and Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford, by 
W. J. Roberts. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

turesque beauty, were to me as old friends. 
Women have more of this natural feeling than 
the stronger sex ; they are creatures of home 
and habit, and ill brook transplanting," 


THE Mitfords had taken a cottage in Three Mile 
Cross a . small village about two miles from 
Graseley, which they supposed at first would 
be only a temporary abode, but which finally 
proved to be their home for many years. Here 
it was that Mary Russell Mitford, throwing her- 
self into the life of her rustic surroundings, and 
recognizing its poetry and its beauty, conceived 
her plan of writing the tales of " Our Village." 
These tales were destined to render little Three 
Mile Cross classic ground, and to attract pil- 
grims, even from the other side of the Atlantic, 
to visit the prototype of " Our Village." 

Mary writes to Sir William Elford early in 
April, 1820 : 

" We have moved a mile nearer Reading to 
a little village street situate on the turnpike 
road between Basingstoke and the aforesaid 
illustrious and quarrelsome borough. Our resi- 
dence is a cottage no not a cottage, it does not 
deserve the name--a messuage or tenement, 
M 161 

Mary Russell Mitford 

such as a little farmer who had made twelve or 
fourteen hundred pounds might retire to when 
he left off business to live on his means. It con- 
sists of a series of closets . . . which they call 
parlours and kitchens and pantries, some of 
them minus a corner which has been unnatur- 
ally filched for a chimney ; others deficient in 
half a side which has been truncated by the 
shelving roof. . . . [But] we shall be greatly 
benefited by the compression though at pre- 
sent the squeeze sits upon us as uneasily as 
tight stays, and is almost as awkward looking. 

" Nevertheless we are really getting very com- 
fortable and falling into our old habits with all 
imaginable ease. Papa has already amused 
himself by committing a disorderly person, the 
pest of the Cross. . . . Mamma has converted 
an old dairy into a most commodious store- 
house. I have stuffed the rooms with books and 
the garden with flowers, and lost my only key. 
Lucy has made a score of new acquaintances, 
and picked up a few lovers ; and the great white 
cat, after appearing exceedingly disconsolate 
and out of his wits for a day or two, has given 
full proof of resuming his old warlike and pre- 
datory habits by being lost all the morning in a 
large rat hole and stealing the milk for our tea 
this afternoon." 

Ten days later Mary writes to a female 




Three Mile Cross 

friend : " We are still at this cottage, which I 
like very much. . . . Indeed I had taken root 
completely till yesterday, when some neigh- 
bours of ours (pigs, madam) got into my little 
flower court and made havoc among my pinks 
and sw r eet-peas, and a little loosened the fibres 
of my affection. At the very same moment the 
pump was announced to be dry, which, con- 
sidering how much water we consume I and 
my flowers is a sad affair." But she adds a 
day or two afterwards : " I am all in love with 
our cottage again : the cherries are ripe, and the 
roses bloom, the water has come, and^the pigs 
are gone ! ' 

The Mitfords' cottage is still to be seen stand- 
ing in the long straggling street of low cottages, 
divided by pretty gardens, with a wayside inn 
on one side, on the other side a village shop, 
and right opposite a cobbler's stall. No railway 
has come to bring bustle and noise to that quiet 
spot, so that the village still retains what Miss 
Mitford has called its " trick of standing still, of 
remaining stationary, unchanged and unim- 
proved in this most changeable and improving 

In the opening chapter of the first volume of 
Our Village the writer says : 

' Will you walk with me through our village, 
courteous reader ? The journey is not long. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

We will begin at the lower end, and proceed up 
the hill. 

" The tidy square red cottage 1 on the right 
hand with the long well-stocked garden by the 
side of the road belongs to a retired publican 
from a neighbouring town . . . one who piques 
himself on independence and idleness . . . and 
cries out for reform. He introduced into our 
peaceful vicinage the rebellious innovation of 
an illumination on the Queen's acquittal. Re- 
monstrance and persuasion were in vain ; he 
talked of liberty and broken windows so we 
all lighted up. Oh ! how he shone that night 
with candles and laurel and white bows and 
gold paper, and a transparency with a flaming 
portrait of Her Majesty, hatted and feathered in 
red ochre. He had no rival in the village that 
we all acknowledged ; the very bonfire was less 
splendid. . . . 

lt Next to his house, though parted from it 
by another long garden with a yew arbour at 
the end, is the pretty dwelling of the shoemaker, 
a pale, sickly-looking, black-haired man, the 
very model of sober industry. There he sits in 
his little shop from early morning till late at 
night. An earthquake would hardly stir him ; 
the illumination did not. He stuck immovably 

1 This house, though unaltered in appearance, is now an 
inn called " The Fox and Horn." 


Three Mile Cross 

to his last from the first lighting up through the 
long blaze and the slow decay till his large 
solitary candle was the only light in the place. 
One cannot conceive anything more perfect 
than the contempt which the man of trans- 
parencies and the man of shoes must have felt 
for each other on that evening. Our shoe- 
maker is a man of substance, he employs three 
journeymen, two lame and one a dwarf, so that 
his shop looks like a hospital. ... He has only 
one pretty daughter a light, delicate, fair- 
haired girl of fourteen, the champion, protec- 
tress and playfellow of every brat under three 
years old. ... A very attractive person is that 
child-loving girl. . . . 

" The first house on the opposite side of the 
way is the blacksmith's, a gloomy dwelling, 
where the sun never seems to shine, dark and 
smoky within and without, like a forge. The 
blacksmith is a high officer in our little state, 
nothing less than a constable ; but alas ! alas ! 
when tumults arise and the constable is called 
for he will commonly be found in the thickest 
of the fray. . . . 

" Next to this official dwelling is a spruce 
little tenement, red, high and narrow, boasting, 
one above another, three sash windows, the 
only sash windows in the village. That slender 
mansion has a fine, genteel look. The little 


Mary Russell Mitford 

parlour seems made for Hogarth's old maid 
and her stunted foot-boy, for tea and card 
parties ... for the rustle of faded silks and 
the splendour of old china, for affected gen- 
tility and real starvation. This should have 
been its destiny, but fate has been unpropitious, 
it belongs to a plump, merry, 'bustling dame 
with four fat, rosy, noisy children, the very 
essence of vulgarity and plenty. 

" Then comes the village shop, like other 
village shops, multifarious as a bazaar ; a re- 
pository for bread, shoes, tea, cheese, tape, 
ribands and bacon, for everything, in short, 
except the one particular thing which you hap- 
pen to want at the moment . . . and which 
' they had yesterday and will have again to- 
morrow/ . . . The people are civil and thriving 
and frugal withal. They have let the upper 
part of their house to two young women ... 
who teach little children their ABC, and make 
caps and gowns for their mammas parcel 
schoolmistress, parcel mantua maker. I believe 
they find adorning the body a more profitable 
vocation than adorning the mind/' 

This little shop still exists, and it still bears 
above its modest window the identical name of 
Bromley, which it bore in Miss Mitford's day. 

" Divided from the shop by a narrow yard," 
continues Miss Mitford, " and opposite the shoe- 



Three Mile Cross 

maker's, is a habitation of whose inmates I 
shall say nothing. A cottage no a miniature 
house, with many additions, little odds and 
ends of places, pantries, and what not ; all 
angles and of a charming in-and-outness ; a 
little bricked court before one half, a little 
flower-yard before the other ; the walls old and 
weather-stained, covered with hollyhocks, roses, 
honeysuckles and a great apricot tree. The 
casements are full of geraniums (ah, there is our 
superb white cat peeping out from amongst 
them !), the closets . . . full of contrivances 
and corner cupboards ; and the little garden 
behind full of common flowers, tulips, pinks, 
larkspurs, peonies, stocks and carnations, with 
an arbour of privet, not unlike a sentry-box, 
where one lives in a delicious green light, and 
looks out on the gayest of all gay flower-beds. 
That house was built on purpose to show in 
what an exceedingly small compass comfort 
may be packed. Well, I will loiter there no 

" The next tenement is a place of importance 
the Rose Inn ['The Swan'], a whitewashed 
building, retired from the road behind its fine 
swinging sign, with a little bow-window room 
coming out on one side and forming with our 
stable on the other a sort of open square, which 
is the constant resort of carts, waggons and 


Mary Russell Mitford 

return chaises. There are two carts there now, 
and mine host is serving them with beer in his 
eternal red waistcoat. . . . He has a stirring wife, 
a hopeful son and a daughter, the belle of the 
village, not so pretty as the fair nymph of the 
shoe shop, and less elegant, but ten times as 
fine, all curl-papers in the morning, like a porcu- 
pine, all curls in the afternoon, like a poodle, 
with more flowers than curl-papers and more 
lovers than curls. . . . 

" In a line with the bow- window room is a 
low garden wall belonging to a house under 
repair; the white house opposite the collar- 
maker's shop, with four lime trees before it and 
a waggon load of bricks at the door. That 
house is the plaything of a wealthy, whimsical 
person who lives about a mile off. He has a 
passion for bricks and mortar. . . . Our good 
neighbour fancied that the limes shaded the 
rooms and made them dark, so he had all the 
leaves stripped from every tree. There they 
stood, poor miserable skeletons, as bare as 
Christmas under the glowing midsummer sun/' 

Here we would remark that when paying our 
first visit to Three Mile Cross many years ago 
that house was unchanged, and the row of old 
pollarded limes still stood as sentinels before it ; 
but since then the house has been altered and 
the trees have disappeared. We would also 


Three Mile Cross 

mention that the real name of the inn is the 
" Swan," but in all her village tales Miss Mitford 
calls it the " Rose." The " collar-maker's shop," 
on the opposite side of the road, a quaint little 
edifice, is just as it was in appearance in the 
writer's day. 

11 Next door [to the house under repair]," con- 
tinues Miss Mitford, " lives a carpenter, famed 
ten miles round, and worthy all his fame, with 
his excellent wife and their little daughter 
Lizzie, the plaything and queen of the village, 
a child of three years old, according to the 
register, but six in size and strength and intel- 
lect, in power and in self-will. She manages 
everybody in the place, her schoolmistress in- 
cluded . . . makes the lazy carry her, the silent 
talk to her, the grave romp with her ; does any- 
thing she pleases ; is absolutely irresistible. . . . 
Together with a good deal of the character of 
Napoleon she has something of his square, 
sturdy, upright form . . . she has the imperial 
attitudes too, and loves to stand with her hands 
behind her, or folded over her breast, and some- 
times when she has a little touch of shyness she 
clasps them together on the top of her head, 
pressing down her shining curls, and looking so 
exquisitely pretty ! Yes, Lizzie is the queen of 
the village ! She has but one rival in her 
dominions, a certain white greyhound called 

Mary Russell Mitford 

Mayflower, much her friend, who resembles her 
in beauty and strength, in playfulness and 
almost in sagacity, and reigns over the animal 
world as she over the human. They are both 
coming with me, Lizzie and Lizzie's ' pretty May/ 
" We are now at the end of the street ; a 
cross lane, a rope walk, shaded with limes and 
oaks, and a cool, clear pond, overhung with 
elms, lead us to the bottom of the hill. There 
is still an house round the corner, ending in a 
picturesque wheeler's shop. The dwelling-house 
is more ambitious. Look at the fine flowered 
window-blinds, the green door with the brass 
knocker. . . . These are the curate's lodgings- 
apartments his landlady would call them. He 
lives with his own family four miles off, but 
once or twice a week he comes to his neat little 
parlour to write sermons, to marry or to bury 
as the .case may require. Never were better 
people than his host and hostess, and there is a 
reflection of clerical importance about them, 
since their connection with the Church, which is 
quite edifying a decorum, a gravity, a solemn 
politeness. Oh, to see the worthy wheeler carry 
the gown after his lodger on a Sunday, nicely 
pinned up in his wife's best handkerchief ; or 
to hear him rebuke a squalling child or a squab- 
bling woman ! The curate is nothing to him. 
He is fit to be perpetual churchwarden." 


Three Mile Cross 

We would remark here that the wheeler's 
workshop is one of the most striking objects in 
the village. Its great hatch doors are always 
thrown wide open, revealing a dark interior in 
vivid contrast with the sunshine overhead. Its 
old thatched roof is illuminated by the golden 
light, as are also the spreading branches of a 
huge wistaria that cover its main wall as well 
as the whole front of the adjoining dwelling- 
house. The present wheelwright is the successor 
of the very man whom Miss Mitford has just 
described. It is pleasant to have a chat with 
him about the village, as he has known every 
corner of it ... also its inhabitants for many 
a year. He showed us the curate's little parlour, 
into which the front door opens, admitting a 
pretty view of the " cool clear pond " on the 
further side of the lane with its overhanging 

Little Three Mile Cross does not boast a 
church of its own, but it is in the parish of 
Shinfield, and it was to Shinfield Church, distant 
about two miles and a half, that the curate 
repaired, accompanied by the <( wheeler " carry- 
ing his gown. 

On quitting the village Miss Mitford ex- 
claims : " How pleasantly the road winds up 
the hill between its broad green borders and 
hedgerows, so thickly timbered ! . . . We are 

x 177 

Mary Russell Mitford 

now on the eminence close to the Hill-house 
and its beautiful garden." And looking back, 
she describes "the view; the road winding 
down the hill with a slight bend ... a waggon 
slowly ascending, and a horseman passing it at 
full trot, [while] further down are seen the 
limes and the rope-walk, then the village, peep- 
ing through the trees, whose clustering tops 
hide all but the chimneys and various roofs of 
the houses . . . [and in the distance] the 

elegant town of B , with its fine old church 

towers and spires, the whole view shut in by a 
range of chalky hills ; and over every part of 
the picture trees so profusely scattered that it 
appears like a woodland scene, with glades and 
villages intermixed." 



Miss MITFORD'S cottage in Three Mile Cross is 
practically the same as it was in her day, the 
chief alterations being that the windows to the 
front of the house, which were formerly leaded 
casement windows, have been enlarged and are 
now sashed. Also that the window of a parlour 
looking unto the back garden has been enlarged. 
In former times, too, the red bricks of which the 
house is built were exposed, but they are now 
covered with plaster. 

Curiously enough some early prints of the 
cottage are very misleading. A limner at a 
distance has evidently tried to make a pleasing 
drawing from some very imperfect sketch done 
on the spot, which did not reveal the fact that 
the right-hand portion of the house recedes, and 
that the front door is not in the middle but on 
one side. Thus a report arose that the cottage 
had been rebuilt in later years. But happily 
we possess conclusive evidence to the contrary 
given by a gentleman still living who passed his 


Mary Russell Mitford 

childhood in the cottage almost as an adopted 
son of the household. When visiting the place 
a few years ago he declared that the cottage 
was unchanged, and recalled, as he passed from 
room to room, his happy associations with each 

The house is now used as a working man's 
club, and the caretaker is ready to show the 
place to any visitors desirous to see the home 
of Miss Mitford. 

Behind the house on part of the site of Miss 
Mitford's garden there is a large edifice built 
called the " Mitford Hall/' which is used as an 
Institute for the working classes, and is a source 
of much good to the neighbourhood. But hap- 
pily it stands well back and cannot be seen by 
the visitor who gazes at the cottage from the 
village street, and who is glad to dwell only on 
what is connected with Miss Mitford's residence 
in the place. 

In the sketch of the cottage given the reader 
will observe that the windows have been drawn 
as they were formerly and a few other small 
alterations made. 

The cottage consists of a ground floor with 
one storey only above it. The casement window 
in the receding portion of the cottage, just below 
the shelving roof, belongs to Miss Mitford's 
study, a quaint little room where at a small 


The New Home 

table she used to write her stories of village life, 
The window looks down upon the " shoe- 


maker's *' little shop, with its pointed roof and 
tiny window panes. It must be quite unchanged 


Mary Russell Mitford 

in appearance since Miss Mitford described it, 
the sole alteration being in the business carried 
on there, as it and the collar-maker's quaint 
shop at the top of the village have exchanged 

As she sat at that window Miss Mitford would 
jot down all the incidents that occurred in the 
village street below. " It is a pleasant, lively 
scene this May morning/' she writes, " with the 
sun shining so gaily on the irregular rustic 
dwellings, intermixed with their pretty gardens ; 
a cart and a waggon watering (it would be more 
correct perhaps to say beering) at the ' Rose ' ; 
Dame Wheeler with her basket and her brown 
loaf just coming from the bakehouse ; the 
nymph of the shoe shop feeding a large family 
of goslings at the open door ; two or three 
women in high gossip dawdling up the street ; 
Charles North the gardener, with his blue apron 
and a ladder on his shoulder, walking rapidly 
by ; a cow and a donkey browsing the grass by 
the wayside ; my white greyhound, Mayflower, 
sitting majestically in front of her own stable ; 
and ducks, chickens, pigs and children scattered 
over all. ... Ah ! here is the post cart coming 
up the road at its most respectable rumble, that 
cart, or rather caravan, which so much resembles 
a house upon wheels, or a show of the smaller 
kind at a country fair. It is now crammed full 


The New Home 

of passengers, the driver just protruding his 
head and hands out of the vehicle, and the sharp, 
clever boy, who, in the occasional absence of his 
father, officiates as deputy, perched like a 
monkey on the roof." 

" I have got exceedingly fond of this little 
place," writes Mary to Sir William Elford ; 
" could be content to live and die here. To be 
sure the rooms are of the smallest ; I, in our 
little parlour, look something like a blackbird 
in a goldfinch's cage but it is so snug and com- 

The projecting piece of building seen in the 
sketch in the front of the cottage was appro- 
priated by the doctor as his dispensary. It has 
a door that opens into the little front court. 
The bedrooms are on the first floor. 

Mary's study window commands a pretty 
view beyond the low peaked roofs of the shoe- 
maker's shop and of its neighbouring cottages. 
At the foot of a grassy slope can be seen a dark 
line of tree tops. They form part of a magnifi- 
cent avenue of elms that border a long stretch 
of grass one of the old drover's roads extend- 
ing for nearly two miles. " The effect of these 
tall solemn trees," remarks Mary, " so equal in 
height, so unbroken and so continuous, is quite 
grand and imposing as twilight comes on, 
especially when some slight bend in the lane 


Mary Russell Mitford 

gives to the outline almost the look of an amphi- 
theatre. " This spot Woodcock Lane as it is 
called was a favourite resort of Mary's, and 
thither she often repaired when composing her 
country sketches. 

" In that very lane/' she writes one day, " am 
I writing on this sultry June day, luxuriating 
in the shade, the verdure, the fragrance of hay- 
field and beanfield, and the absence of all noise 
except the song of birds and that strange 
mingling of many sounds, the whir of a thousand 
forms of insect life, so often heard among the 
general hush of a summer noon. 

" . . . Here comes a procession of cows going 
to milking, with an old attendant, still called 
the cow-boy, who, although they have seen me 
often enough, one should think, sitting beneath 
a tree writing . . . with my dog Fanchon 
nestled at my feet still will start as if they 
had never seen a woman before in their lives. 
Back they start, and then they rush forward, 
and then the old drover emits certain sounds 
so horribly discordant that little Fanchon starts 
up in a fright on her feet, deranging all the 
economy of my extemporary desk and wellnigh 
upsetting the inkstand. Very much frightened 
is my pretty pet, the arrantest coward that ever 
walked upon four legs ! And so she avenges 
herself, as cowards are wont to do, by following 



The New Home 

the cows at a safe distance as soon as they are 
fairly passed, and beginning to bark amain 
when they are nearly out of sight." 

Mary delighted in the beauty of the country 
that surrounds Three Mile Cross even from the 
first moment of her arrival, but her delight 
increased as she became more intimately ac- 
quainted with its charms. 

" This country is eminently flowery," she 
writes. " Besides the variously tinted prim- 
roses and violets in singular profusion we have 
all sorts of orchises and arums ; the delicate 
wood anemones ; the still more delicate wood 
sorrel, with its lovely purple veins meandering 
over the white drooping flower ; the field tulips 
[or fritillary] with its rich checker-work of lilac 
and crimson, and the sun shining through the 
leaves as through old painted glass ; the ghostly 
field star of Bethlehem [and] the wild lilies-of- 
the-valley. . . . Yes, this is really a country of 
flowers ! " 

She revelled, too, in the wilder beauty of the 
great commons in the neighbourhood " always 
picturesque and romantic," she writes one day 
in early summer, " and now peculiarly brilliant, 
and glowing with the luxuriant orange flowers 
of the furze . . . stretching around us like a 
sea of gold, and loading the very air with its 
rich almond odour." 


Mary Russell Mitford 

She loved the winding rivers that water her 
part of the country ; the " pleasant and pas- 
toral Kennet for silver eels renowned/' upon 
whose bordering meadows the fritillary, both 
purple and white, grow in profusion ; and the 
changeful, beautiful Loddon " rising sometimes 
level with its banks, so clear and smooth and 
peaceful . . . and sometimes like a frisky, 
tricksy watersprite much addicted to wander- 
ing out of bounds/' 

There is a fine old stone bridge that crosses 
the Loddon about a mile beyond Shinfield, with 
a small inn, " The George/' close by, a favourite 
resort of fishermen. Standing on that bridge 
one summer evening Miss Mitford watched the 
setting sun descend over the water. 

' What a sunset ! How golden ! how beau- 
tiful ! " she exclaims. " The sun just disap- 
pearing, and the narrow liny clouds, which a 
few minutes ago lay like soft vapoury streaks 
along the horizon, lighted up with a golden 
splendour that the eye can scarcely endure. . . . 
Another minute and the brilliant orb totally 
disappears, and the sky above grows every 
moment more varied and more beautiful as the 
dazzling golden lines are mixed with glowing 
red and gorgeous purple, dappled with small 
dark specks and mingled with such a blue as 
the egg of the hedge-sparrow. To look up at 


The New Home 

that glorious sky, and then to see that magnifi- 
cent picture reflected in the clear and lovely 
Loddon water is a pleasure never to be described 
and never forgotten. My heart swells and my 
eyes fill as I write of it and think of the im- 
measurable majesty of nature and the unspeak- 
able goodness of God who has spread an enjoy- 
ment so pure, so peaceful and so intense before 
the meanest and the lowest of His creatures/' 


THERE is an amusing sketch in the first volume 
of Our Village entitled " the Talking Lady/' 
from which we should like to quote a few pas- 
sages. Its scene is evidently laid in the Mitfords' 
common sitting-room, whose two windows look 
both front and back, and in which we have sat 
many a time. 

After alluding to a play written by Ben Jon- 
son called The Silent Woman Miss Mitford re- 
marks : 

" If the learned dramatist had happened to 
fall in with such a specimen of female loquacity 
as I have just parted with, he might perhaps 
have given us a pendant to his picture in the 
Talking Lady. Pity but he had ! He would 
have done her justice, which I could not at any 
time, least of all now. I am too much stunned ; 
too much like one escaped from a belfry on a 
coronation day. I am just resting from the 
fatigue of four days' hard listening four snowy, 
sleety, rainy days, all of them too bad to admit 


A Loquacious Visitor 

the possibility that any petticoatecl thing, were 
she as hardy as a Scotch fir, should stir out ; 
four days chained by ' sad civility ' to that fire- 
side once so quiet, and again cheering thought ! 
again I trust to be so, when the echo of 
that visitor's incessant tongue shall have died 

" The visitor in question is a very excellent 
and respectable elderly lady, upright in mind 
and body, with a figure that does honour to 
her dancing master, and a face exceedingly well 
preserved. . . . She took us in the way from 
London to the West of England, and being, as 
she wrote, ' not quite well, not equal to much 
company, prayed that no other guest might be 
admitted so that she might have the pleasure 
of our conversation all to herself ' (Ours ! as if 
it were possible for any of us to slide in a word 
edgewise !) ' and especially enjoy the gratifica- 
tion of talking over old times with the master 
of the house, her countryman/ Such was the 
promise of her letter, and to the letter it has 
been kept. All the news and scandal of a large 
county forty years ago . . . and ever since has 
she detailed with a minuteness . . . which 
would excite the envy of a county historian, a 
king-at-arms, or even a Scotch novelist. Her 
knowledge is astonishing. ... It should seem 
to listen to her as if at some time of her life she 


Mary Russell Mitford 

ust have listened herself ; and yet her country- 
man declares ... no such event has occurred. 

:< . . . Talking, sheer talking, is meat and 
drink and sleep to her. She likes nothing else. 
Eating is a sad interruption. . . . Walking ex- 
hausts the breath that might be better em- 
ployed. . . . Allude to some anecdote of the 
neighbourhood, and she forthwith treats you 
with as many parallel passages as are to be found 
in an air with variations. . . . The very weather 
is not a safe subject. Her memory is a perpetual 
register of hard frosts and long droughts and 
high winds and terrible storms, with all the evils 
that followed in their train and all the personal 
events connected with them. ... By this time 
it rains, and she sits down to a pathetic see-saw 
of conjectures on the chance of Mrs. Smith's 
having set out for her daily walk, or the possi- 
bility that Dr. Brown may have ventured to 
visit his patients in his gig, and the certainty 
that Lady Green's new housemaid would come 
from London on the outside of the coach. 

" With all this intolerable prosing she is 
actually reckoned a pleasant woman ! Her 
acquaintance in the great manufacturing town 
where she usually resides is very large. . . . 
Doubtless her associates deserve the old French 
compliment, ' Us ont tous un grand talent pour 
le silence.' ... It is the tete-Mete that kills, or 


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^!- .^ .;/>. f: ^ViiV-tU^- 

.^Slja^ ', 

>y.. ; v/ 
/ >: 'fi& r *^^=^==^ 

I \^ N >^-^-\ t /^= = ~_ -- - 


A Loquacious Visitor 

the small fireside circle of three or four where 
only one can -speak and all the rest must seem 
to listen seem I did I say ? must listen in 
good earnest. . . . She has the eye of a hawk, 
and detects a wandering glance, an incipient 
yawn, the slightest movement of impatience. 
The very needle must be quiet. ... I wonder 
if she had married how many husbands she 
would have talked to death. . . . Since the 
decease of her last nephew she attempted to 
form an establishment with a widow lady for 
the sake, as they both ^aid, of the comfort of 
society. But strange miscalculation ! she was 
a talker too ! They parted in a week. 

..." And we have also parted. I am just 
returned from escorting her to the coach, which 
is to convey her two hundred miles westward ; 
and I have still the murmur of her adieux re- 
sounding in my ears like the indistinct hum of 
the air on a frosty night. It was curious to see 
how almost simultaneously these mournful 
adieux shaded into cheerful salutations of her 
new comrades, the passengers in the mail. Poor 
souls ! Little does the civil young lad who made 
way for her or the fat lady, his mamma, who 
with pains and inconvenience made room for 
her, or the grumpy gentleman in the opposite 
corner who, after some dispute, was at length 
won to admit her dressing-box little do they 

Mary Russell Mitforcl 

suspect what is to befall them. Two hundred 
miles ! And she never sleeps in a carriage ! 
Well, patience be with them . . . and to her 
all happiness/' 

In one of her stories entitled " Whitsun Eve," 
Mary Mitford describes her own garden and its 
picturesque surroundings. 

" The pride of my heart," she writes, " and 
the delight of my eyes is my garden. Our house, 
which is in dimensions very much like a bird- 
cage, and might with almost equal convenience 
be laid on a shelf, or hung up in a tree, would be 
utterly unbearable in warm weather were it not 
that we have a retreat out of doors and a very 
pleasant retreat it is. ... 

" Fancy a small plot of ground with a pretty, 
low, irregular cottage at one end ; a large 
granary, divided from the dwelling by a little 
court running along one side, and a long thatched 
shed, open towards the garden, and supported 
by wooden pillars on the other. The bottom is 
bounded, half by an old wall and half by an old 
paling, over which we see a pretty distance of 
woody hills. The house, "granary, wall and pal- 
ings are covered with vines, cherry trees, roses, 
honeysuckles and jessamines, with great clusters 
of tall hollyhocks running up between them. 
. . . This is my garden ; and the long pillared 
shed, the sort of rustic arcade, which runs along 



m ; 

** tint 

A Loquacious Visitor 

one side, parted from the flower-beds by a row 
of rich geraniums, is our out-of-door drawing- 

:< I know nothing so pleasant as to sit there 
on a summer afternoon, with the western sun 
flickering through a great elder tree, and light- 
ing up one gay parterre, where flowers and 
flowering shrubs are set as thick as grass in a 
field . . . where we may guess that there is 
such a thing as mould but never see it. I know 
nothing so pleasant as to sit in the shade of that 
dark bower ... now catching a glimpse of the 
little birds as they fly rapidly in and out of their 
nests . . . now tracing the gay gambles of the 
common butterflies as they sport around the 
dahlias ; now watching that rarer moth which 
the country people, fertile in pretty names, call 
the bee-bird. . . . 

' What a contrast from the quiet garden to 
the lively street ! Saturday night is always a 
time of stir and bustle in our village, and this is 
Whitsun Eve, the pleasant est Saturday of all 
the year, when London journeymen and servant 
lads and lasses snatch a short holiday to visit 
their families. . . . This village of ours is 
swarming to-night like a hive of bees. ... I 
must try to give some notion of the various 

" First there is a group suited to Teniers, a 

Mary Russell Mitford 

cluster of out-of-door customers of the ' Rose/ 
old benchers of the inn, who sit round a table 
smoking and drinking in high solemnity to the 
sound of Timothy's fiddle. Next a mass of 
eager boys, the combatants of Monday, who are 
surrounding the shoemaker's shop where an in- 
visible hole in their [cricket] ball is mending 
by Master Kemp himself. . . . Farther down 
the street is the pretty black-eyed girl, Sally 
Wheeler, come home for a day's holiday from 

B , escorted by a tall footman in a dashing 

livery, whom she is trying to curtsy off before 
her deaf grandmother sees him. I wonder 
whether she will succeed ? ' 

In another early sketch of Our Village called 
" Dr. Tubb," Mary Mitford writes :- 

" On taking possession of our present abode 
about four years ago we found our garden and 
all the gardens of the straggling village street 
in which it is situated filled, peopled, infested 
by a beautiful flower which grew in such pro- 
fusion and was so difficult to keep under that 
(poor pretty thing !) instead of being admired 
and cherished ... it was cut down, pulled up 
and hoed out like a weed. I do not know the 
name of this .elegant plant, nor have I met with 
anyone who does ; we call it the Spicer, after 
an old naval officer who once inhabited the 
white house just above, and, according to tra- 


A Loquacious Visitor 

dition, first brought the seed from foreign 
parts. . . . 

I never saw anything prettier than a whole 
bed of these spicers which had clothed the top 
of a large heap of earth belonging to our little 
mason by the roadside ; [they] grew as thick 
and close as grass in a meadow, covered with 
delicate red and white blossoms like a fairy 

It seems to us that this flower may have been 
the American Balsam, which grows as rapidly 
as any weed, and which we happened actually 
to see, waving its pretty red and white blossoms 
in Miss Mitford's garden some years ago. This 
was long after her death, and when the cottage 
and garden had fallen into humbler hands. 

" I never passed the spicers," remarks Mary, 
" without stopping to look at them, and I was 
one day half shocked to see a man, his pockets 
stuffed with the plants, two large bundles under 
each arm, and still tugging away root and 
branch. . . . This devastation did not, how-, 
ever, proceed from disrespect, the spicer gatherer 
being engaged in sniffing with visible satisfac- 
tion the leaves and stalks. ' It has a fine veno- 
mous smell/ quoth he in soliloquy, ' and will 
certainly when stilled be good for something or 
other.' This was my first sight of Dr. Tubb . . . 
a quack of the highest and most extended repu- 


Mary Russell Mitford 

tation, inventor and compounder of medicines; 
bleeder, shaver and physicker of man and 
beast. . . . 

" We have frequently met since, and are 
now well acquainted, although the worthy 
experimentalist considers me as a rival prac- 
titioner, an interloper, and hates me accordingly. 
He has very little cause, [for] my quackery, 
being mostly of the cautious, preventive, safe- 
guard, commonsense order, stands no chance 
against the boldness and decision of his all- 
promising ignorance. He says, Do ! I say, Do 
not ! He deals in stimuli, I in sedatives ; I give 
medicine, he gives cordial waters. Alack ! 
alack ! when could a dose of rhubarb, even 
although reinforced by a dole of good broth, 
compete with a draught of peppermint and a 
licensed dram ? No ! no ! Dr. Tubb has no 
cause to fear my practice/' 



Miss MITFORD writes to Sir William Elford on 
March 5th, 1824 : "In spite of your prognos- 
tics, I think you will like Our Village. It will 
be out in three weeks or a month. ... It is 
exceedingly playful and lively, and I think you 
will like it. Charles Lamb (the matchless ' Elia ' 
of the London Magazine*) says that nothing so 
fresh and characteristic has appeared for a long 
while. It is not over modest to say this ; but 
who would not be proud of the praise of such a 
proser ? " 

Sir William Elford, in answering this letter, 
expressed his opinion that the sketches of rural 
life would have been better if written in the 
form of letters. 

" Your notion of letters pleases me much/' 
replies Miss Mitford, " as I see plainly that it is 
the result of the old prepossessions and partiali- 
ties which do me so much honour and give me so 
much pleasure. But it would never have done. 
The sketches are too long, and necessarily too 


Mary Russell Mitford 

much connected for real correspondence. . . . 
Besides, we are free and easy in these days, and 
talk to the public as a friend. Read Elia, or the 
Sketch Book, or Hazlitt's Table Talk, or any 
popular book of the new school and you will 
find that we have turned over the Johnsonian 
periods and the Blair-ian formality, to keep 
company with the wigs and hoops, the stiff 
curtsys and low bows of our ancestors. Now 
the public the reading public is, as I said 
before, the correspondent and confidant of 

" Having thus made the best defence I can 
against your criticism, I proceed to answer 
your question, ' Are the characters and descrip- 
tions true ? ' Yes ! yes ! yes ! As true as is 
well possible. You, as a great landscape painter, 
know that in painting a favourite scene you do 
a little embellish, and can't help it ; you avail 
yourself of happy accidents of atmosphere, and 
if anything be ugly you strike it out, or if any- 
thing be wanting you put it in. But still the 
picture is a likeness ; and that this is a very 
faithful one you will judge when I tell you that 
a worthy neighbour of ours, a post-captain, who 
has been in every quarter of the globe and is 
equally distinguished for the sharp look-out 
and the bonhomie of his profession, accused me 
most seriously of carelessness in putting ' The 


The Publication of Our Village 

Rose ' for ' The Swan ' as the sign of our next- 
door neighbour, and was no less disconcerted 
at the misprint (as he called it) of B. for R. in 
the name of our next town. A cela pres he 
declares the picture to be exact." 

Miss Mitford thus prefaces her work in the 
first sketch entitled Om Village : 

" Of all situations for a constant residence 
that which appears to me most delightful is a 
little village far in the country ; a small neigh- 
bourhood, not of fine mansions finely peopled, 
but of cottages and cottage-like houses . . . 
with inhabitants whose faces are as familiar to 
us as the flowers in our garden ; a little world 
of our own, close-packed and insulated like ants 
in an anthill or bees in a hive, or sheep in a fold. 
. . . [Where we] learn to know and to love the 
people about us, with all their peculiarities, just 
as we learn to know and to love the nooks and 
turns of the shady lanes and sunny commons 
that we pass every day. 

" Even in books I like a confined locality, and 
so do the critics when they talk of the unities. 
Nothing is so tiresome as to be whirled half 
over Europe at the chariot wheels of a hero, to 
go to sleep at Vienna and awaken at Madrid ; 
it produces a real fatigue, a weariness of spirit. 
On the other hand nothing is so delightful as to 
sit down in a country village in one of Miss 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Austen's delicious novels, quite sure before we 
leave it to become intimate with every spot and 
every person it contains ; or to ramble with 
Mr. White over his own parish of Selborne and 
form a friendship with the fields and coppices, 
as well as with the birds, mice and squirrels who 
inhabit them ; or to sail with Robinson Crusoe 
to his island, and live there with him and his 
goats and his man Friday ... or to be ship- 
wrecked with Ferdinand on that other lovelier 
island the island of Prospero and Miranda, 
and Calaban and Ariel, and nobody else . . , 
that is best of all. And a small neighbourhood 
is as good in sober waking reality as in poetry 
or prose ; a village neighbourhood such as this 
Berkshire hamlet in which I write, a long, 
straggling, winding street at the bottom of a 
fine eminence, with a road through it, always 
abounding in carts, horsemen and carriages, and 
lately enlivened by a stage-coach from B 
to S , which passed through about ten days 
ago, and will, I suppose, return some time or 

Our Village soon made its mark, and towards 
the end of June Miss Mitford was able {o write 
to Sir William Elford, " It sells well, and has 
been received by the literary world and reviewed 
in all the literary papers better than I, for 
modesty, dare to say/' 


The Publication of Our Village 

Seven months later she wrote to the same 
friend, " The little prose volume has certainly 
done its work and made an opening for a longer 
effort. You would be diverted at some of the 
instances I could tell you of its popularity. 
Columbines and children have been named after 
Mayflower 1 ; stage-coachmen and post-boys 
point out the localities ; schoolboys deny the 
possibility of any woman's having written the 
Cricket Match without schoolboy help ; and 
such men as Lord Stowell (Sir William Scott, the 
last relique, I believe, of the Literary Club) send 
to me for a key. I mean to try three volumes of 
tales next spring. . . . Heaven knows how I 
shall succeed ! 

" Of course I shall copy as closely as I can 
Nature and Miss Austen, keeping, like her, to 
genteel country life, or rather going a little 
lower perhaps, and I am afraid with more of 
sentiment and less of humour. I do not intend 
to commit these delinquencies, mind I mean to 
keep as playful as I can ; but I am afraid of 
their happening in spite of me." 

Before the first volume of Our Village had 
been a year in the hands of the public it had 
passed into three editions, and by 1826 a second 
volume had made its appearance, whose success 
was equally great. With the money gained 

1 Her favourite greyhound. 

Mary Russell Mitford 

Mary was soon enabled to add to the comforts 
of her small establishment. She writes to a 
friend in the summer of 1824 : " We have a 
pretty little pony-chaise and pony (oh ! how I 
should like to drive you in it !), and my dear 
father and mother have been out in it three or 
four times, to my great delight ; I am sure it 
will do them both so much good/' 

Among the various letters of warm apprecia- 
tion of Our Village received by Miss Mitford was 
the following from Mrs. Hemans, written on 
June 6th, 1827 : ~ 

" I can hardly feel that I am addressing an 
entire stranger in the author of Our Village," 
she writes, " and yet I know it is right and proper 
that I should apologise for the liberty I am 
taking. But really after having accompanied 
you, as I have done again and again, in ' violet- 
ing ' and seeking for wood-sorrel after having 
been with you to call upon Mrs. Allen in ' the 
dell/ and becoming thoroughly acquainted with 
May and Lizzie, I cannot but hope you will 
kindly pardon my intrusion, and that my name 
may be sufficiently known to you to plead my 
cause. There are writers whose books we cannot 
read without feeling as if we really had looked 
with them upon the scenes they bring before us. 
. . . Will you allow me to say that your writings 
have this effect upon me, and that you have 


The Publication of Our Village 

taught me, in making me know and love your 
' village ' so well, to wish for further knowledge 
also of her who has so vividly impressed its 
dingles and copses upon my imagination, and 
peopled them so cheerily with healthful and 
happy beings ? I believe if I could be personally 
introduced to you that I should in less than five 
minutes begin to enquire about Lucy and the 
lilies-of-the-valley, and whether you had suc- 
ceeded in peopling that ' shady border ' in your 
own territories with those shy flowers." 

Writing to her mother from London in 
November, 1826," Mary says : " I hope that you 
have by this time received the new number of 
Blackwood 1 in which I am very pleasantly 
mentioned in the last article, the ' Noctes 
Ambrosianae.' " 

It was under this title, the reader may remem- 
ber, that the celebrated " Christopher North " 
(John Wilson) was bringing out a series of enter- 
taining conversations on all sorts of subjects 
supposed to be spoken by North himself and a 
few fellow habitues of an old-fashioned Edin- 
burgh inn. The character of the " Shepherd/' 
it seems, was drawn from James Hogg the 
" Ettrick Shepherd." This is the passage 
alluded to by Miss Mitford " Noctes Am- 

1 Blackwood 's Edinburgh Magazine. 
P 209 

Mary Russell Mitford 



SCENE Ambrose's Hotel, Picardy Place, Paper Parlour 

Tickler. Master Christopher North, there's 
Miss Mitford, author of Our Village, an admir- 
able person in all respects, of whom you have 
never, to my recollection, taken any notice 
in the Magazine. What is the meaning of 
that? . . . 

North. I am waiting for her second volume. 
Miss Mitford has not, in my opinion, either the 
pathos or humour of Washington Irving ; but 
she excels him in vigorous conception of charac- 
ter, and in the truth of her pictures of English 
life and manners. Her writings breathe a sound, 
pure and healthy morality, and are pervaded 
by a genuine rural spirit the spirit of merry 
England. Every line bespeaks the lady. 

Shepherd. I admire Miss Mitford just ex- 
cessively. I dinna wunner at her being able to 
write sae weel as she does about drawing-rooms 
wi' sofas and settees, and about the fine folk in 
them seein' themselves in lookin'-glasses frae 
tap to tae ; but what puzzles the like o' me is 
her pictures o' poachers and tinklers . . . and 


The Publication of Our Village 

o' huts and hovels without riggin' by the way- 
side, and the cottages o' honest, puir men and 
byres and barns. . . . And merry-makin's at 
winter-ingles, and courtships aneath trees 
atween lads and lasses as laigh in life as the 
servants in her father's- ha'. That's the puzzle, 
and that's the praise. But ae word explains a' 
Genius Genius wull a' the metaphizzians 
in the warld ever expound that mysterious 
monysyllable ? 

Tickler. Monosyllable, James, did you say ? 

Shepherd. Ay monysyllable. Does na that 
mean a word o' three syllables ? 

North (in a later review). The young gentle- 
men of England should be ashamed o' thirselves 
fo' letten her name be Mitford. They should 
marry her, whether she wull or no, for she 
would mak boith a useful and agreeable wife. 
Thet's the best creetishism on her warks. 



THE framework of these stories that is all that 
concerns Miss Mitford herself, who figures not 
only as the narrator but as an actor in the scenes 
described is, for the most part, she tells us, 
strictly true. Thus in giving quotations from 
her charming tales we are giving also passages 
from her own daily life, and so we seem to see 
her walking about the country lanes visiting the 
cottages or farm-houses, and even to hear her 
conversing with the villagers. 

In a story entitled Patty's New Hat, Mary 
Mitford writes : 

' Wandering about the meadows one morning 
last May absorbed in the pastoral beauty of the 
season and the scenery, I was overtaken by 
a heavy shower, just as I passed old Mrs. 
Matthew's great farm-house and forced to run 
for shelter to her hospitable porch. A pleasant 
shelter in good truth I found there. The green 
pastures dotted with fine old trees stretching 
all around ; the clear brook winding about 


A Country-side Romance 

them, turning and returning on its course, as if 
loath to depart ... the village spire rising 
amongst a cluster of cottages, all but the roofs 

'//.:.'. > ' Afc O x ' ' 


and chimneys concealed by a grove of oaks ; 
the woody background and the blue hills in the 
distance, all so flowery and bowery in the 
pleasant month of May. The porch, around 


Mary Russell Mitford 

which a honeysuckle in full bloom was wreath- 
ing its sweet flowers . . . was alive and musical 
with bees. It is hard to say which enjoyed the 
sweet breath of the shower and the honeysuckle 
most, the bees or I ; but the rain began to drive 
so fast that at the end of five minutes I was not 
sorry to be discovered by a little girl belonging to 
the family, and ushered into the spacious kitchen, 
with its ample dresser glittering with crockery 
ware, and then finally conducted by Mrs. Mat- 
thews herself into her own comfortable parlour. 
u On my begging that I might cause no inter- 
ruption she resumed her labours at a little table 
[where she was] mending a fustian jacket 
belonging to one of her sons. On the other side 
of the little table sat her pretty granddaughter 
Patty, a black-eyed young woman, with a bright 
complexion, a neat, trim figure, and a general 
air of gentility considerably above her station. 
She was trimming a very smart straw hat with 
pink ribands, trimming and untrimming, for 
the bows were tied and untied, taken off and 
put on, and taken off again, with a look of im- 
patience and discontent, not common to a 
damsel of seventeen when contemplating a new 
piece of finery. The poor little lass was evidently 
out of sorts. She sighed and quirked and 
fidgeted and seemed ready to cry, whilst her 
grandmother just glanced at her face under her 


A Country-side Romance 

spectacles, pursed up her mouth, and contrived 
with some difficulty not to laugh. At last Patty 

" ' Now, grandmother, you will let me go to 
Chapel Row revel this afternoon, won't you ? ' 

" ' Humph/ said Mrs. Matthews. 

" ' It hardly rains at all, grandmother ! ' 

" ' Humph ! ' again said Mrs. Matthews, open- 
ing the prodigious scissors with which she was 
amputating, so to say, a button, and directing 
the rounded end significantly to my wet shawl, 
whilst the sharp point was reverted towards the 
dripping honeysuckle. ' Humph ! ' 
' There's no dirt to signify ! ' 

11 Another ' Humph ! ' and another point to 
the draggled tail of my white gown. 
' At all events it's going to clear.' 

" Two ' Humphs ! ' and two points, one to 
the clouds and one to the barometer. 

" ' It's only seven miles,' said Patty ; ' and 
if the horses are wanted, I can walk.' 

" ' Humph ! ' quoth Mrs. Matthews. 

" ' My Aunt Ellis will be there, and my cousin 

" ' Humph ! ' again said Mrs. Matthews. 

" ' My cousin Mary will be so disappointed.' 

" ' Humph ! ' 

" ' And I half promised my cousin William- 
poor William ! ' 


Mary Russell Mitford 

" ' Humph ! ' again. 

" ' Poor William ! Oh, grandmother, do let 
me go ! And I've got my new hat and all just 
such a hat as William likes ! Poor William ! 
You will let me go, grandmother ? ' 

" And receiving no answer but a very un- 
equivocal ' Humph ! ' poor Patty threw down 
her hat, fetched a deep sigh, and sat in a most 
disconsolate attitude, snipping her pink riband 
to pieces. Mrs. Matthews went on manfully 
with her ' stitchery/ and for ten minutes there 
was a dead pause. It was at last broken by my 
little friend and introducer, Susan, who was 
standing at the window, and exclaimed : ' Who 
is this riding up the meadow all through the 
rain ? Look ! see ! I do think no, it can't 
be yes it is it is certainly my cousin William 
Ellis ! Look, grandmother ! ' 

" ' Humph ! ' said Mrs. Matthews. 

" ' What can cousin William be coming for ? ' 
continued Susan. 

" ' Humph ! ' quoth Mrs. Matthews. 

" ' Oh, I know ! I know ! ' screamed Susan, 
clapping her hands and jumping for joy as she 
saw the changed expression of Patty's counten- 
ance, the beaming delight, succeeded by a 
pretty downcast shamefacedness as she turned 
away from her grandmother's arch smile and 
archer nod. ' I know ! I know ! ' shouted Susan. 


A Country-side Romance 

" ' Humph ! ' said Mrs. Matthews. 

" ' For shame, Susan ! Pray don't, grand- 
mother ! ' said Patty imploringly. 

" ' For shame ! Why I did not say he was 
coming to court Patty ! Did I, grandmother ? ' 
returned Susan. 

" ' And I take this good lady to witness/ 
replied Mrs. Matthews, as Patty, gathering up 
her hat and her scraps of riband, prepared to 
make her escape. / I take you all to witness 
that I have said nothing of any sort. Get along 
with you, Patty ! ' added she, ' you have spoilt 
your pink trimming, but I think you are likely 
to want white ribands next, and if you put me 
in mind, I'll buy them for you ! ' And smiling 
in spite of herself the happy girl ran out of the 


In one of her tales Miss Mitford describes a 
fog in her village and its surrounding neigh- 
bourhood, contrasting it with a fog in London. 

" A London fog/' she writes, " is a sad thing, 
as every inhabitant of London knows full well : 
dingy, dusky, dirty, damp ; an atmosphere 
black as smoke and wet as steam, that wraps 
round you like a blanket ; a cloud reaching 
from earth to heaven ; ' a palpable obscure/ 
which not only turns day into night, but 
threatens to extinguish the lamps and lanthorns 
with which the poor street wanderers strive to 


Mary Russell Mitford 

illuminate their darkness. ... Of all detestable 
things a London fog is the most detestable. 

" Now a country fog is quite another matter. 
. . . This last lovely autumn has given us more 
foggy mornings, or rather more foggy days, than 
I ever remember to have seen in Berkshire : 
days beginning in a soft and vapoury mistiness, 
enveloping the whole country in a veil, snowy, 
fleecy, and light, as the smoke which one often 
sees circling in the distance from some cottage 
chimney, or as the still whiter clouds which 
float around the moon, and finishing in sunsets 
of a surprising richness and beauty when the 
mist is lifted up from the earth and turned into 
a canopy of unrivalled gorgeousness, purple, 
rosy and golden. . . . 

" It was in one of these days, early in Novem- 
ber, that we set out about noon to pay a visit 
to a friend at some distance. The fog was yet 
on the earth, only some brightening in the 
south-west gave token that it was likely to 
clear away. As yet, however, the mist held 
complete possession. We could not see the 
shoemaker's shop across the road no ! nor our 
chaise when it drew up before our door ; were 
fain to guess at our own laburnum tree, and 
found the sign of The Rose invisible, even when 
we ran against the sign-post. Our little maid, a 
kind and careful lass, who, perceiving the dreari- 


A Country-side Romance 

ness of the weather, followed us across the court 
with extra wraps, had wellnigh tied my veil 
round her master's hat and enveloped me in his 
bearskin, and my dog Mayflower, a white grey- 
hound of the largest size, who had a mind to 
give us the undesired honour of her company, 
carried her point, in spite of the united efforts 
of half a dozen active pursuers, simply because 
the fog was so thick that nobody could see her. 
It was a complete game at bo-peep. 

" A misty world it was, and a watery ; and 
I ... began to sigh and shiver and quake, as 
much from dread of an overturn as from damp 
and chilliness, whilst my careful driver and his 
sagacious steed went on groping their way 
through the woody lanes that lead to the Loddon. 
Nothing but the fear of confessing my fear, 
that feeling which makes so many cowards 
brave, prevented me from begging to turn back 
again. On, however, we went, the fog becoming 
every moment heavier as we approached that 
beautiful and brimming river. My companion, 
nevertheless, continued to assure me that the 
day would clear nay, that it was already 
clearing ; and I soon found that he was right. 
As we left the river we seemed to leave the fog 
. . . [and] it was curious to observe how object 
after object glanced out of the vapour. First of 
all the huge oak at the corner of Farmer Locke's 


Mary Russell Mitford 

field, which juts out into the lane like a crag into 
the sea ... its head lost in the clouds ; then 
Farmer Hewitt's great barn the house, ricks 
and stables still invisible ; then a gate and half 
a cow, her head being projected over it in strong 
relief, whilst the hinder part of her body re- 
mained in the haze ; then more and more dis- 
tinctly hedgerows, cottages, trees and fields, 
until, as we reached the top of Barkham Hill, 
the glorious sun broke forth, and the lovely 
picture [of the valley] lay before our eyes in its 
soft and calm beauty/' 

This account of Mary and her father's ex- 
pedition in a fog caught the fancy of two 
authoresses. One Miss Sedgwick writes to 
Mary from the other side of the Atlantic : " Tell 
me anything of your noble father (long may he 
live !) whom I have loved ever since you took 
that ride with him in a one-horse chaise of a 
misty morning. Do you remember ? ' 

The other Mrs. Hemans writes : "I hope 
. . . that you were not the worse for that fog, 
the very description of which almost took my 
hair out of curl whilst reading it ! ' 



MARY RUSSELL MITFORD'S love of the drama 
was awakened in childhood, and at her school 
in Hans Place it was much developed. " After 
my return home/' she writes, " came days of 
eager and solitary poring over the mighty 
treasures of the printed drama, that finest 
form of poetry which can never be lost. At 
school I had been made acquainted, like other 
schoolgirls, with Racine. Little did Madame 
de Maintenon, proud queen of the left hand, 
think when the gentle poet died of a courtly 
frown, that she and St. Cyr would be best 
remembered by ' Athalie ! ' 

As Mary grew up she longed to try her hand 
at tragedy that ambition of young writers 
but it was not until in later years when spurred 
on by the necessity of earning money for the 
support of her father and mother that she con- 
ceived the idea of writing plays for the stage. 
She had heard that occasionally large sums of 
money were gained by the authors of successful 


Mary Russell Mitford 

dramas, and she was encouraged in her under- 
taking by the recollection that when her poems 
were first published Coleridge had prophesied 
that the author of " Blanche " would write a 
tragedy. "So," writes Mary, " I took heart of 
grace and resolved to try a play." 

Her first attempt, a comedy; was rejected by 
the manager of a theatre. " Then, nothing 
daunted/' she writes, " I tried tragedy, and pro- 
duced five acts on the story of Fiesco. But just 
as conscious of the smallness of my means and 
the greatness of my object I was about to 
relinquish the pursuit in despair, I met with a 
critic so candid a friend, so kind, that, aided by 
his encouragement, all difficulties seemed to 
vanish. I speak/' she adds, " of the author of 
Ion Mr. Justice Talfourd then a very young 
man . . . Foscari was the result of this en- 

But before Foscari had appeared on the stage 
her play of Julian, having been read and ap- 
proved by Macready, was performed with that 
celebrated actor as the principal character. It 
was, happily, successful, and, greatly cheered 
by this result and also by receiving no less than 
200 from the manager of Co vent Garden 
theatre, Mary Mitford continued her dramatic 

But she had to go through many trials con- 


A New Playwright 

nee ted with it, which often affected her health. 
The main cause of these trials were the unhappy 
dissensions between Macready and Charles 
Kemble, who both appear to have had hasty 
tempers. Mary writes to Sir William Elford on 
her return home from a hurried visit to London : 
" My soul sickens within me when I think of the 
turmoil and tumult I have undergone and am 
[still] to undergo. ... I am tossed about 
between Kemble and Macready like a cricket- 
ball affronting both parties and suspected by 
both because I will not come to a deadly rupture 
with either/' 

But, happily, later on she had reason to think 
differently about these great actors. She speaks 
of Macready as " a most ardent and devoted 
friend " ; and when, in the autumn of 1826, 
Foscari was about to appear on the stage, she 
says she feels " inclined to hate herself for her 
mistrust of Charles Kemble." " There are no 
words for his kindness/' she declares, " from 
the beginning of this affair to the end/' 

Miss Mitford, accompanied by her father, 
went up to London for the first performance of 
Foscari at Covent Garden theatre, which was 
fixed for the 5th November. They lodged at 
No. 45 Frith Street, Soho Square, whence Mary 
wrote to her mother an account of the great 
event. Outside her letter were the words, 


Mary Russell Mitford 

" Good news/' The letter is dated Saturday 
night, November 5th : 

" I cannot suffer this parcel to go to you, my 
dearest mother, without writing a few lines to 
tell you of the complete success of my play. It 
was received with rapturous applause [and] 
without the slightest symptoms of disapproba- 
tion from beginning to end. . . . William Har- 
ness and Mr. Talfourd are both quite satisfied 
with the whole affair, and my other friends are 
half crazy. . . . 

" I quite long to hear how you, my own 
dearest darling, have borne the suspense and 
anxiety consequent on this affair, which, 
triumphantly as it has turned out, was certainly 
a very nervous business. They expect the play 
to run three times a week till Christmas. It was 
so immense a house that you might have walked 
over the heads in the pit ; and great numbers 
were turned away, in spite of the wretched 
weather. All the actors were good. . . . Mr. 
Young gave out the tragedy amidst immense 

Mary herself was not present at this wonder- 
ful scene. Writing in later years she remarks : 
" I had not nerve enough to attend the first 
representation of my tragedies. I sat still and 
trembling in some quiet apartment near, and 
thither some friend flew to set my heart at ease. 



A New Playwright 

Generally the messenger of good tidings was 
poor Hay don, whose quick and ardent spirit 
lent him wings on such an occasion, and who 
had full sympathy with my love for a large 
canvas, however indifferently filled." 

When thanking Sir William Elford for his 
congratulations upon the success of Foscari, 
Miss Mitford says : " Hitherto the success has 
been very brilliant. We can hardly expect it 
to last. . . . But great good has been done if 
(which Heaven avert) the tragedy stop not 

The agreement between the theatre and Miss 
Mitford for Foscari, we are told, was 100 on the 
third, the ninth, the fifteenth, and the twentieth 
nights, while the copyright of the play 
(together with a volume of Dramatic Sketches) 
was sold to Whittaker for 150. 

Miss Mitford had some new and strange ex- 
periences connected with the performance of 
her plays, and amongst these she has recorded 
her first sight of a theatre by daylight. 

" Td one accustomed to the imposing aspect 
of a great theatre at night," she writes, " blazing 
with light and beauty, no contrast can be greater 
than to enter the same theatre at noontide. 
Leaving daylight behind you, and stumbling as 
best you may through dark passages and amidst 
the inextricable labyrinth of scenery, [you are] 


Mary Russell Mitford 

too happy if you be not projected into the 
orchestra or swallowed up by a trap-door. . . . 

' When the eye becomes accustomed to the 
darkness the contrasts are sufficiently amusing. 
Solemn tragedians . . . hatted and great- 
coated, skipping about, chatting and joking like 
common mortals . . . tragic heroines saunter- 
ing languidly through their parts in the closest 
of bonnets and thickest of shawls ; untidy 
ballet girls (there was a dance in Foscari} walk- 
ing through their quadrille to the sound of a 
solitary fiddle, striking up as if of its own 
accord from amidst the tall stools and music- 
desks of the orchestra, and piercing, one hardly 
knew how, through the din that was going on 

u Oh, that din ! Voices from every part, 
above, below, around, and in every key, bawling, 
shouting, screaming ; heavy weights rolling 
here and falling there, bells ringing, one could 
not tell why, and the ubiquitous call-boy every- 
where ! . . . 

" No end to the absurdities and discrepancies 
of a rehearsal ! I contributed mj? full share to 
the amount. . . . There is a gun in Julian, 
and I, frightened by one when a child, ' hate 
a gun like a hurt wild duck ' . . . and my first 
address to Mr. Macready was an earnest en- 
treaty that he would not suffer them to fire 


A New Playwright 

that gun at rehearsal. They did, nevertheless, 
. . . but the smiling bow of the great tragedian 
had spared me the worst part of that sort of 
fright, the expectation. . . . 

" Troubled and anxious though they were," 
she adds, " those were pleasant days, guns and 
all, days of hope dashed with so much fear, and 
of fear illumined with fitful rays of hope. And 
in those rehearsals . . . where nobody is ever 
found when he is wanted, and nobody ever 
seems to know a syllable of his part . . . the 
business must somehow have gone on, for at 
night the scenes fall into the right places, the 
proper actors come at the right times, speeches 
are spoken in due order, and to the no small 
astonishment of the novice, who had given her- 
self up for lost, the play succeeds/' 



Miss MITFORD'S capacity of throwing herself 
heart and soul into the widely varying subjects 
upon which she was engaged was truly remark- 
able. For whilst writing her playful or pathetic 
stories of village life, breathing as they do the 
calm and beauty of the surrounding country, 
she was composing one after another her 
stirring tragedies. 

The finest of these is generally considered 
to be Rienzi to which Miss Mitford had given 
much time and thought. She wrote in August, 
1824, to a female friend who had enquired 
after her literary undertakings : 

" I write as usual for magazines, and (but 
this is quite between ourselves) I have a tragedy 
which will I may say certainly as certainly 
as we can speak of anything connected with the 
theatre be performed at Drury Lane next 
season. It is the story of ' Rienzi/ the friend 
of Petrarch ; the man who restored for a short 
time the old republican government of Rome. 
If you do not remember the story you will find 



it very beautifully told in the last volume of 
Gibbon, and still more graphically related in 
L'Abbe de Sadi's Memoires pour la Vie de 

It was not, however, until four years later 
that the play actually appeared upon the stage. 
Its success was of vital importance to the little 
household at Three Mile Cross, and Mary was 
immersed in business of all sorts during the 
months preceding its d6but. Still she had a 
" heart at leisure " even then to sympathise 
with her friends in their joys and sorrows. On 
hearing that Haydon's important picture of 
the year had just been purchased by the King, 
she writes : 

. " A thousand and a thousand congratulations, 
my dear friend, to you and your loveliest and 
sweetest wife ! I always liked the King, God 
bless him ! He is a gentleman and now my 
loyalty will be warmer than ever. . . . This 
is fortune fame you did not want but this 
fashion and fortune. Nothing in this world 
could please me more not even the production 
of my own Rienzi. To see you in your place in 
Art and Talfourd in his in Parliament are the 
wishes next my heart, and I verily believe that 
I shall live to see both. . . . 

"God bless you, my dear friends! and God 
save the King ! ' 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Miss Mitford writes on Sept. 23rd, 1828, to 
Sir William Elford :- 

" My tragedy of Rienzi is to be produced at 
Drury Lane Theatre on Saturday the nth of 
October ; that is to say, next Saturday fort- 

" Mr. Young plays the hero, and has been 
studying the part during the whole vacation ; 
and a new actress makes her first appearance 
in the part of the heroine. This is a very bold 
and hazardous experiment, no new actress 
having come out in a new play within the 
memory of man ; but she is young, pretty, 
unaffected, pleasant-voiced, with great sensi- 
bility, and a singularly pure intonation a 
qualification which no .actress has possessed 
since Mrs. Siddons. Stanfield is painting the 
new scenes, one of which is an accurate repre- 
sentation of Rienzi's house. This building 
still exists in Rome. . . . They have got a 
sketch which they sent for on purpose, and they 
are hunting up costumes with equal care ; 
so that it will be very splendidly brought out, 
and I shall have little to fear, except from the 
emptiness of London so early in the season/' 

Miss Mitford's next letter to Sir William is 
written from London after the first performance 
of Rienzi. It is dated Oct. 5th, 1828, 5 Great 
Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn, and is as follows : 




" Our success last night was very splendid 
and we have every hope (in the theatrical world 
there is no such word as ' certainty ') of making 
a great hit. As far as things have hitherto gone 
nothing can be better nothing. Our new 
actress is charming. . . . Mr. Young is also 
admirable ; and, in short, it is a magnificent 
performance throughout. God grant that its 
prosperity may continue ! and these are not 
words, of course, but a prayer from my inmost 
soul, for on that hangs the comfort of those 
far dearer to me than myself." 

And a fortnight later she writes : 

" Hitherto the triumph has been most com- 
plete and decisive the houses crowded and 
the attention such as has not been known since 
Mrs. Siddons. You might hear a pin drop in 
the house. How long this run may continue 
I cannot say, for London is absolutely empty ; 
but even if the play were to stop to-night I 
should be extremely thankful more thankful 
than I have words to tell ; the impression has 
been so deep and so general." 

Letters of congratulation from women of 
mark poured in from all sides, but Mary missed 
the sympathy of her intimate friend Lady 
Franklin (wife of the Arctic explorer) who had 
recently died. She remarks in the Introduction 
to her Dramatic Works : 


Mary Russell Mitford 

" When Rienzi, after a more than common 
portion of adventures and misadventures, did 
come out with a success rare in a woman's 
life ... I missed the eager congratulations 
from her . . . whose cheering prognostics had 
so often spurred me on. ... 

" No part of my success/' she adds, " was 
more delightful than the pleasure which it 
excited amongst the most eminent of my female 
contemporaries. Maria Edgeworth, Joanna 
Baillie, Felicia Hemans (and to two of them 
I was at that time unknown) vied in the cor- 
diality of their praises. Kindness met me on 
every hand." 

In a letter from Mrs. Trollope (a well-known 
authoress of the day), who was then staying in 
New York, she learns of Rienzi being performed 
in that city. " It is here and here only/' writes 
Mrs. Trollope, "that I have had an opportunity 
of seeing Rienzi ; it is a noble tragedy, and not 
even the bad acting of the Chatham Theatre 
could spoil it. I never witnessed such a triumph 
of powerful poetry over weak acting as in the 
magnificent scene where Rienzi refuses pardon 
to an Orsini/ 1 

The play continued to draw large audiences 
at Drury Lane, and ran for a hundred days, a 
most unusual event in those times. Of the 
printed play Miss Mitford writes : " It is 



selling immensely, the first very large edition 
having gone in three days/' 

We have read Rienzi with deep interest. 
The tragic scenes are very powerful, tension 
being kept up throughout the whole action, 
while the love passages are beautiful, tender 
and truly pathetic. If we might venture upon 
a criticism it is that there is an absence in the 
play of all humour a quality so conspicuous 
in Miss Mitford's village stories. Perhaps it is 
only Shakespeare who possesses the consummate 
art of relieving the strain wrought upon the 
mind by deep tragedy with a touch of humour. 
It is certainly absent in some of the finest 
French and German tragedies. 

Miss Mitford's incessant work at this period, 
coupled with much domestic anxiety (for her 
mother's health was then failing), made her 
possibly over anxious. 

" I shall have hard work," she observes in a 
letter to a friend, " to write up to my own 
reputation, for certainly I am at present 
greatly overrated." And alluding to the 
triumph of Rienzi she says : 

" Dramatic success, after all, is not so delicious, 
so glorious, so complete a gratification as in 
our secret longings we all expect to find. It is 
not satisfactory. It does not fill the heart. . . . 
It is an intoxication. . . . Within four-and- 


Mary Russell Mitford 

twenty hours [of the performance of Rienzi] 
I doubted if triumph there were, and more than 
doubted if it were deserved. It is ill-success 
that leads to self-assertion. Never in my life 
was I so conscious of my dramatic short- 
comings as on that day of imputed exaltation 
and vainglory/' 

But Mary's fame as a dramatic author was 
growing in spite of her own modest estimate of 
her powers, and in spite also of many a dis- 
appointment that she had to endure. Her play 
of Charles I, the subject of which was sug- 
gested to her by Macready, was condemned by 
the Licenser, "who saw a danger to the State 
in permitting the trial of an English monarch 
to be represented on the stage/' It was for- 
bidden, therefore, at the two great houses 
although it afterwards appeared at a minor 

The fate of another play, Inez de Castro, was 
still more unfortunate, for after having been 
rehearsed three times at the Lyceum Theatre, 
apparently with the approval of all concerned, 
it was suddenly withdrawn for some unknown 
reason. Fanny Kemble, whom Miss Mitford 
describes as " a girl of great ability/' was taking 
the part of the heroine. 

" Great at the moment were these anxieties 
and tribulations," writes Miss Mitford in after 



life, " but it is good to observe in one's own 
mind and good to tell others how just as the 
keenest physical pain is known to be soon 
forgotten, so in mental vicissitudes time carries 
away the bitter and leaves the sweet. The 
vexations and the injuries fade into dim dis- 
tance and the kindness and the benefits shine 
vividly out." 

An edition of her collected works was pub- 
lished in Philadelphia in the year 1841, which 
is prefaced by a short biography of the author 
written by James Crissy. It is pleasant therein 
to read his warm-hearted appreciation of her 
literary genius. He speaks of Miss Mitford 
as " a dramatist of no common power/' " In 
all her plays/' he says, " there is strong, 
vigorous writing masculine in the free un- 
hashed use of language, but wholly womanly 
in its purity from coarseness or licence and 
in its touches [of the] softest feeling and finest 

He goes on, however, to say : " But the claims 
of Miss Mitford to swell the list of inventors 
[of new styles in literature] rest upon yet firmer 
grounds. They rest upon those exquisite 
sketches by which she has created a school of 
writing, homely but not vulgar, familiar but not 
breeding contempt. . . . Wherein the small 
events and the simple characters of rural life 


Mary Russell Mitford 

are made interesting by the truth and sprightli- 
ness with which they are represented." 

In the Introduction to her " Dramatic 
Works/' Miss Mitford thus closes a detailed 
account of the composition and production of 
her plays: 

" So much for the Tragedies. There would 
have been many more such but that the pressing- 
necessity of earning money, and the uncertain- 
ties and the delays of the drama, at moments 
when delay or disappointment weighed upon 
me like a sin, made it a duty to turn away from 
the lofty steep of Tragic Poetry to the everyday 
path of Village Stories/' 

A propos of these words and knowing that 

Miss Mitford's greatest power lay in the writing 
of those very Village Stories, we would quote 
the words of Tennyson : 

" Not once or twice in our fair island story 
The path of duty was the way to glory/' 



" ONE of the prettiest dwellings in our neigh- 
bourhood/' writes Miss Mitford in one of her 
stories, "is the Lime Cottage at Burley-Hatch. 
It consists of a low-browed habitation, so en- 
tirely covered with jessamine, honeysuckle, 
passion-flowers and china roses, as to resemble 
a bower, and is placed in the centre of a large 
garden. On either sicle of the neat gravel walk 
which leads from the outer gate to the door of 
the cottage stand the large and beautiful trees 
to which it owes its name; spreading their 
strong, broad shadow over the turf beneath, 
and sending, on a summer afternoon, their 
rich spring fragrance half across the irregular 
village green. . . . 

" Such is the habitation of Therese de G., an 
emigree of distinction, whose aunt having 
married an English officer, was luckily able to 
afford her niece an asylum during the horrors 
of the Revolution, and to secure to her a small 
annuity and the Lime Cottage after her death. 
R 241 

Mary Russell Mitford 

There she has lived for five-and-thirty years, 
gradually losing sight of her few and distant 
foreign connections, and finding all her happiness 
in her pleasant home and her kind neighbours 
a standing lesson in cheerfulness and content- 

"A very popular person is Mademoiselle 
Therese popular both with high and low ; 
for the prejudice which the country people 
almost universally entertain against foreigners 
vanished directly before the charm of her 
manners. . . . She is so kind to them too, so 
liberal of the produce of her orchard and gar- 
den and so full of resources in their difficulties. 
Among the rich she is equally beloved. No 
party is complete without the pleasant French 
woman. Her conversation is not very power- 
ful, not very brilliant but then it is so good- 
natured, so genuine, so constantly up and 
alive; to say nothing of the charm which it 
derives from her language, which is alternately 
the most graceful and purest French and the 
most diverting and absurd broken English. . . . 

" Her appearance betrays her country almost 
as much as her speech. She is a French-looking 
little personage with a slight, active figure, 
exceedingly nimble and alert in every move- 
ment; a round and darkly complexioned face, 
somewhat faded and passee but still striking 


Foreign Neighbours 

from the laughing eyes. Nevertheless, in her 
youth, she must have been pretty ; so pretty 
that some of our young ladies, scandalised at 
finding their favourite an old maid, have in- 
vented sundry legends to excuse the solecism, 
and talk of duels fought pour Vamour de ses 
beaux yeux, and of a betrothed lover guillotined 
in the Revolution. And the thing may have 
been so ; although one meets everywhere with 
old maids who have been pretty, and whose 
lovers have not been guillotined. I rather 
suspect our fair demoiselle of having been in 
her youth a little of a flirt. 

" Even during her residence at Burley-Hatch 
hath not she indulged in divers very distant, 
very discreet, very decorous, but still very 
evident flirtations ? Did not Doctor Abdy, 
the portly, ruddy schoolmaster of B. dangle 
after her for three mortal years, holidays 
excepted ? And did she not refuse him at 
last ? And Mr. Foreclose, the thin, withered, 
wrinkled city solicitor, a man, so to say, smoke- 
dried, who comes down every year to Burley 
for the air, did not he do suit and service to her 
during four long vacations with the same ill- 
success ? Was not Sir Thomas himself a little 
smitten ? Nay, even now, does not the good 
major, a halting veteran of seventy but really 
it is too bad to tell tales out of the parish all 


Mary Russell Mitford 

that is certain is that Mademoiselle Therese 
might have changed her name long before now 
had she so chosen. 

" Her household consists of her little maid 
Betsy, a cherry-cheeked, blue-eyed country lass, 
who with a fair unmeaning countenance, copies 
the looks and gestures of her alert and vivacious 
mistress, and of a fat lap-dog, called Fido, silky, 
sleepy and sedate. . . . 

" If everybody is delighted to receive this most 
welcome visitor, so is everybody delighted to 
accept her graceful invitations, and meet to 
eat strawberries at Burley-Hatch. 

"Oh, how pleasant are those summer after- 
noons, sitting under the blossomed limes, with 
the sun shedding a golden light through the 
broad branches, the bees murmuring overhead, 
roses and lilies all about us, and the choicest 
fruit served up in wicker baskets of her own 
making. . . . Those are pleasant meetings ; 
nor are her little winter parties less agreeable, 
when to two or three female friends assembled 
round their coffee, she will tell thrilling stories 
of that terrible Revolution, so fertile in great 
crimes and great virtues. Or [relate] gayer 
anecdotes of the brilliant days preceding that 
convulsion, the days which Madame de Genlis 
has described so well, when Paris was the 
capital of pleasure, and amusement the business 


Foreign Neighbours 

of life ; illustrating her descriptions by a series 
of spirited drawings of costumes and characters 
done by herself, and always finishing by pro- 
ducing a group of Louis Seize, Marie Antoinette, 
the Dauphin, and Madame Elizabeth, as she 
had last seen them at Versailles the only 
recollections that ever bring tears into her 
smiling eyes. 

" Madame Therese's loyalty to the Bourbons 
was in truth a very real feeling. Her family 
had been about the Court, and she had imbibed 
an enthusiasm for the royal sufferers natural to 
a young and warm heart she loved the Bour- 
bons and hated Napoleon with like ardour. 
All her other French feelings had for some time 
been a little modified. She was not quite so 
sure as she had been that France was the only 
country, and Paris the only city of the world ; 
that Shakespeare was a barbarian, and Milton 
no poet ; that the perfume of English limes 
was nothing compared to French orange trees ; 
that the sun never shone in England ; and that 
sea-coal fires were bad things. . . . Her loyalty 
to her legitimate king was, however, as strong 
as ever, and that loyalty had nearly cost us our 
dear mademoiselle. 

" After the Restoration, she hastened, as fast 
as steamboat and diligence could carry her, to 
enjoy the delight of seeing once more the Bour- 


Mary Russell Mitford 

bons and the Tuileries ; took leave, between 
smiles and tears, of her friends, and of Burley- 
Hatch, carrying with her a branch of the lime- 
tree, then in blossom, and commissioning her 
old lover, Mr. Foreclose, to dispose of the cot- 
tage : but in less than three months, luckily 
before Mr. Foreclose had found a purchaser, 
-mademoiselle came home again. She com- 
plained of nobody ; but times were altered . 
The house in which she was born was pulled 
down ; her friends were scattered, her kindred 
dead ; Madame (la Duchess d'Angouleme) did 
not remember her . . . the King did not know 
her again (poor man ! he had not seen her for 
these thirty years) ; Paris was a new city ; 
the French were a new people ; she missed the 
sea-coal fires ; and for the stunted orange-trees 
at the Tuileries, what were they compared 
with the blossomed limes of Burley-Hatch I" 1 

Another foreign neighbour, described by 
Miss Mitford, was an old French emigre who 
came to reside in " the small town of Hazelby " ; 
a pretty little place where everything seemed 
at a standstill. . . . " It has not even a cheap 
shop/' she remarks, " for female gear. . . . The 
very literature of Hazelby is doled out at the 
pastry-cook's, in a little one-windowed shop, 

1 We think this place may have been intendedffor Burgh- 
field Hatch. 


Foreign Neighbours 

kept by Matthew Wise. Tarts occupy one end 
of the counter and reviews the other ; whilst 
the shelves are parcelled out between books, 
and dolls, and gingerbread. It is a question by 
which of his trades poor Matthew gains least." 

Here it was that the old emigre lodged "in a 
low three-cornered room, over the little shop, 
which Matthew Wise designated his ' first 
floor/ ' Little was known of him, but that he 
was a thin, pale, foreign-looking gentleman, who 
shrugged his shoulders in speaking, took a great 
deal of snuff, and made a remarkably low bow. 
But it soon appeared from a written paper 
placed in a conspicuous part of Matthew's 
shop, that he was an Abbe, and that he would 
do himself the honour of teaching French to 
any of the nobility and gentry of Hazelby who 
might think fit to employ him. Pupils dropped 
in rather slowly. The curate's daughters, and 
the attorney's son, and Miss Deane the milliner 
but she found the language difficult, and left 
off, asserting that M. 1' Abbe's snuff made her 
nervous. At last poor M. 1'Abbe fell ill, really 
ill, dangerously ill, and Matthew Wise went in 
all haste to summon Mr. Hallett (the apothe- 
cary). ... 

" Now Mr. Hallett was what is usually called 
a rough diamond. He piqued himself on being 
a plain downright Englishman [and] he had such 


Mary Russell Mitford 

an aversion to a Frenchman, in general, as a 
cat has to a dog : and was wont to erect him- 
self into an attitude of defiance and wrath at 
the mere sight of the object of his antipathy. 
He hated and despised the whole nation, 
abhorred the language, and " would as lief," 
he assured Matthew, " have been called in to 
a toad." He went, however, grew interested 
in the case, which was difficult and complicated ; 
exerted all his skill, and in about a month 
accomplished a cure. 

By this time he had also become interested 
in his patient, whose piety, meekness, and re- 
signation had won upon him in an extraordinary 
degree. The disease was gone, but a languor 
and lowness remained, which Mr. Hallett soon 
traced to a less curable disorder, poverty. The 
thought of the debt to himself evidently weighed 
on the poor Abbe's spirits, and our good apothe- 
cary at last determined to learn French purely 
to liquidate his own long bill. 

It was the drollest thing in the world to see 
this pupil of fifty, whose habits were so entirely 
unfitted for a learner, conning his task. . . . 
He was a most unpromising scholar, shuffled 
the syllables together in a manner that would 
seem incredible, and stumbled at every step of 
the pronunciation, against which his English 
tongue rebelled amain. Every now and then 


Foreign Neighbours 

he solaced himself with a fluent volley of execra- 
tions in his own language, which . the Abbe 
understood well enough to return, after rather 
a polite fashion, in French. It was a most 
amusing scene. But the motive ! the generous 
noble motive ! 

M. 1'Abbe after a few lessons detected this 
delicate artifice, and, touched almost to tears, 
insisted on dismissing his pupil, who, on his side, 
declared that nothing should induce him to 
abandon his studies. At last they came to a 
compromise. The cherry-cheeked Margaret . . . 
[who kept the doctor's house] took her uncle's 
post as a learner, which she filled in a manner 
much more satisfactory ; and the good old 
Frenchman not only allowed Mr. Hallett to 
administer gratis to his ailments, but partook 
of his Sunday dinner as long as he lived. 


MARY RUSSELL MITFORD visited Southampton 
in the year 1812, and although only one of her 
letters written at that time has been preserved 
it gives us a vivid picture of her impressions of 
the place. The letter is dated September 3rd. 

" I have just returned from Southampton/ 1 
she writes to Sir William Elford. " Have you 
ever been at that lovely spot, which combines 
all that is enchanting in wood and land and 
water with all that is ' buxom, blythe and 
debonair ' in society that charming town, 
which is not a watering-place only because it 
is something better ? . . . Southampton has, 
in my eyes, an attraction independent even, of 
its scenery in the total absence of the vulgar 
hurry of business or the chilly apathy of fashion. 
It is indeed all life, all gaiety ; but it has an 
airiness, an animation which might become the 
capital of Fairyland. The very motion of its 
playful waters, uncontaminated by commerce 
or by war, seems in unison with the graceful 
yachts that sail upon their bosom/' 




Agreeable Jaunts 

She admired the ruins of Netley Abbey, and 
writes in one of her poems : 

" Methinks that e'en from Netley's. gloom 

To look upon the tide 
Seems gazing from the shadowy tomb 
On life and all its pride." 

At a much later date Miss Mitford visited 

" Bath is a very elegant and classical-looking 
city/' she writes, " standing upon a steep hill- 
side, its regular white buildings rising terrace 
above terrace, crescent above crescent, glitter- 
ing in the sun, and charmingly varied by the 
green trees of its park and gardens. . . . Very 
pleasant is Bath to look at. But when con- 
trasted with its old reputation as the favourite 
resort of the noble and the fair ... it is im- 
possible not to feel that the spirit has departed ; 
that it is a city of memories, the very Pompeii 
of watering-places/' 

Again she writes : " A place full of associa- 
tions is Bath. When we had fairly done with 
the real people there were great fictions to fall 
back upon, and I am not sure . . . that those 
who never lived except in the writings of other 
people the heroes and heroines of Miss Austen, 
for example are not the more real of the two. 
Her exquisite story of Persuasion absolutely 


Mary Russell Mitford 

haunted me. Whenever it rained I thought of 
Anne Elliott meeting Captain Went worth, when 
driven by a shower to take refuge in a shoe-shop. 

~ .. ~f 


Whenever I got out of breath in climbing up- 
hill I thought of that same charming Anne 
Elliott, and of that ascent from the lower town 


Agreeable Jaunts 

to the upper, during which all her tribulations 
ceased. And when at last by dint of trotting 
up one street and down another I incurred the 
unromantic calamity of a blister on the heel, 
even that grievance became classical by the 
recollection of the similar catastrophe which, in 
consequence of her peregrinations with the 
Admiral, had befallen dear Mrs. Croft." 

Miss Mitford writes in one of her letters of a 
u most agreeable jaunt to Richmond." 

" God made the country and man made the 
town ! ' "I wonder," she says, " in which of 
the two divisions Cowper would place Rich- 
mond. Every Londoner would laugh at the 
rustic who should call it town, and with 
foreigners it passes pretty generally for a 
sample (the only one they see) of the rural 
villages of England ; and yet it is no more like 
the country, the real untrimmed genuine coun- 
try, than a garden is like a field. Richmond is 
Nature in a court dress, but still Nature aye, 
and very lovely nature too, gay and happy and 
elegant as one of Charles the Second's beauties, 
and with as little to remind one of the penalty 
of labour, or poverty, or grief, or crime. To 
the casual visitor (at least) Richmond appears 
as a sort of fairyland, a piece of old Arcadia, a 
holiday spot for ladies and gentlemen, where 
they had a happy out-of-door life, like the gay 


Mary Russell Mitford 

folks in Watteau's pictures, and have nothing 
to do with the workaday world. . . . 

" Here is Richmond Park, where Jeanie 
Deans and the Duke of Argyle met Queen 
Caroline ; it has been improved, unluckily, and 
the walk where the interview took place no 
longer exists. To make some amends, however, 
for this disappointment, [we are told that] in 
removing some furniture from an old house in 
the town three portraits were discovered in the 
wainscot, George the Second, a staring likeness, 
between Lady Suffolk and Queen Caroline. 
The paintings were the worst of that bad era, 
but the position of the three and the recollection 
of Jeanie Deans was irresistible ; those pictures 
ought never to be separated/' 

" The principal charm of this smiling land- 
scape/' she continues, " is the river, the beau- 
tiful river. Brimming to its very banks of 
meadow or of garden ; clear, pure and calm as 
the bright sky which is reflected in clearer 
brightness from its bosom/' As her boat glides 
along its smooth surface amid scenes of ever- 
changing beauty and interest, Miss Mitford's 
thoughts turn to Sir Joshua Reynolds. " His 
villa is here/' she exclaims, " rich in remem- 
brances of Johnson and Boswell and Goldsmith 
and Burke ; here again the elegant house of 
Owen Cambridge ; close by the celebrated villa 


Agreeable Jaunts 

of Pope, where one seems to see again Swift 
and Gay, St. John and Arbuthnot. A stone's- 
throw off the still more celebrated Gothic toy- 
shop, Strawberry Hill, which we all know so 
well from the minute and vivid descriptions of 
its master, the most amusing of letter-writers, 
the most fashionable of antiquaries, the most 
learned of petit-mattres, the cynical, finical, 
delightful Horace Walpole." 

Then Miss Mitford tells us of " the landing at 
Hampton Court, the palace of the cartoons and 
of the ' Rape of the Lock/ and lastly of her 
coming home with her mind full of the divine 
Raphael . . . strangely chequered and inter- 
sected by vivid images of the fair Belinda, and 
of that inimitable game at ombre which will 
live longer than any painting, and can only die 
with the language." 

Here we would venture to give some passages 
from the " Rape of the Lock " for the benefit 
of those who may not as yet have made the 
acquaintance of the " fair Belinda." This 
poem, so full of wit and fairy fancy, was written 
by Pope to commemorate an event which had 
actually occurred. It happened when a party 
of noble friends had met together in a stately 
room in Hampton Court Palace and were 
gathered around a table prepared for a game 
at ombre. 

s 257 

Mary Russell Mitford 

The heroine Belinda (whose real name was 
Arabella Fermor), famous for her beauty and 
for her " sprightly mind," was wooed by a 
certain young Lord Petre, who ardently desired 
to possess one of " the shining ringlets " that 
decked " her smooth ivory neck/* Meanwhile 
invisible sylphs and sprites, aware that some 
" dire disaster " threatens to befall the uncon- 
scious Belinda, hover protectingly about her. 
Even the very cards take part in the drama, 
giving omens alternately of good or of evil. At 
last Belinda wins the game and rejoices, but 
all too soon it seems in her triumph. 

The cards removed 

" the board with cups and spoons is crowned, 
The berries crackle and the mill turns round, 

but coffee alas ! 

Sent up in vapours to the Baron's brain, 

New stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain. 

. . . Just then Clarissa drew, with tempting grace, 

A two-edged weapon from her shining case. 

He takes the gift with reverence and extends 

The little engine on his ringers' ends ; 

This just behind Belinda's neck he spread 

As o'er the fragrant steams she bends her head. 

Swift to the Lock a thousand sprites repair, 

A thousand wings by turns blow back the hair ; 

The peer now spreads the glittering forfex wide 
To enclose the Lock ; now joins it to divide, 


Agreeable jaunts 

. . . The meeting points the sacred hair dissever 
From the fair head, for ever and for ever ! 

The Lock, obtained with guilt and kept with pain, 

In every place is sought, but sought in vain : 

With such a prize no mortal must be blest, 

So Heaven decrees : with Heaven who can contest ? 

. . . Then cease, bright nymph ! to mourn thy ravished 


Which adds new glory to the shining sphere ! 
Not all the tresses that fair heads can boast 
Shall draw such envy as the Lock you lost. 
For after all the murders of your eye, 
When after millions slain, yourself shall die. 
. . . This Lock the Muse shall consecrate to fame, 
And 'midst the stars inscribe Belinda's name." 


ONE of the most striking buildings in the 
beautiful county of Berkshire often visited by 
Miss Mitford is Ufton Court, a stately manor- 
house of considerable extent " that stands on 
the summit of a steep acclivity looking over a 
rich and fertile valley to a range of wooded 

The court is approached by a double avenue 
of oaks, on emerging from which the fine old 
Elizabethan mansion is seen rising beyond its 
smooth-spreading lawns and shady trees. It 
is surmounted " by more gable ends than a lazy 
man would care to count on a sunny day/' and 
by tall clustered chimneys. Its long fagade is 
flanked by two projecting wings, and in the 
centre is a large porch, forming the letter E in 
the true Elizabethan style. The entrance door 
of solid oak studded with great nails might 
well have resisted an ancient battering-ram. 

In the northern wing of Ufton Court we come 
once more upon associations with the name of 



By W. Sykes 

By W. Sykes 

Ufton Court 

Arabella Fermor the " fair Belinda " of the 
" Rape of the Lock." Here it was that she came 
to live upon her marriage in 1715 with Mr. 
Francis Perkins, a member of an ancient 
Roman Catholic family. Mr. Perkins in honour 
of his bride had the rooms in this wing newly 
decorated in the elegant style of the early 
eighteenth century. The ceiling of the larger 
room, which is still called Belinda's Parlour, is 
adorned with mouldings of graceful design, 
while the small panelling on the walls was re- 
placed by the tall decorated panels then just 
come into fashion. In the same way a lofty 
window was introduced to shed light upon the 

We learn from an old list of the furniture of 
Ufton Court that in a small room near to 
Belinda's Parlour there stood formerly a harp- 
sichord and an ombre table, the latter singularly 
suggestive of the heroine of the " Rape of the 
Lock/' 1 

Two fine portraits exist of Mr. and Mrs. 
Perkins, which probably hung in Belinda's 
room. They are both signed with the name of 
W. Sykes, an artist who flourished in the early 
part of the eighteenth century. That of Mrs. 
Perkins must have been painted before her 
marriage, as her maiden name is inscribed upon 

1 See The History of Ufton Court, by H. Mary Sharp. 

Mary Russell Mitford 

the picture, together with two lines from the 
" Rape of the Lock," thus :- 

Mrs. Arabella Fermor 

" On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore, 
Which Jews might kiss and Infidels adore." 

The lady's dress is of a soft greenish blue 
colour so often seen in portraits of that period. 

The only engravings which exist of these por- 
traits were taken from copies of them made by 
Gardner, but they are not satisfactory, and it 
is to the kindness of the present owner of the 
original pictures that we are indebted for per- 
mission to reproduce them in this work. 

Mary Russell Mitford has written much of 
Ufton Court. She delighted in wandering about 
the old rambling mansion. " It retained strong 
marks of former stateliness," she writes, " in 
the fine proportion of the lofty and spacious 
apartments, the rich mouldings of the ceilings, 
the carved chimney-pieces and panelled walls ; 
while the fragments of stained glass in the 
windows of the great gallery, the relics of 
mouldering tapestry that fluttered against the 
walls, and above all the secret chamber con- 
structed for a priest's hiding-place in the days 
of Protestant persecution conspired to give 
Mrs. Radcliffe-like Castle of Udolpho sort of 
romance to the manor-house/' 


Ufton Court 

" The priest's hiding-place/' she continues, 
was discovered early in the nineteenth cen- 


tury. A narrow ladder led down into this 
gloomy resort, and at the bottom was found a 


Mary Russell Mitford 

crucifix. As many as a dozen carefully masked 
openings into dark hiding-places have been dis- 
covered in this storey ; no doubt they were 
connected one with the other, although the 
clue to the labyrinth is wanting/' 

A broad terrace walk lies behind the Court, 
and from this terrace a flight of stone steps of 
quaint construction leads down to a beautiful 
walled garden. Here we can imagine Belinda 
and her friends enjoying the delights of a summer 
evening and surveying the wide view which 
lies beyond the garden of sloping fields to a 
wooded valley watered by a rushing stream. 

A pathway of the softest turf leads from the 
foot of the steps across the garden to the pillars 
of a former gateway surmounted by stone balls 
and flanked by two ancient gnarled yews, 
which stand like sentinels to guard the en- 
trance. In the centre of the garden the turf 
widens to a circular piece of lawn, upon which 
stands an old sundial. It is surrounded by gay 
flowers of all sorts, and is partly enclosed by a 
rustic fence, forming a fairy garden as it were 
within the great garden. 

Beyond the main boundary wall the green- 
sward slopes down abruptly to a chain of fish 
ponds. These must have been kept neat and 
trim when fish, so much needed for a Roman 
Catholic household, was difficult to obtain 


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~m ' * m nprr^TTm^TrfuT^I^iU' ' i -^ 

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Ufton Court 

beyond the precincts of the Court. But the 
ponds are beautiful in their neglected condition, 
with their luxuriant growth of water plants, 
their surrounding trees, whose branches are 
reflected below, and the occasional glimpse of 
a moorhen skimming past. 

Miss Mitford speaks of there being "on the 
lawn in front of the mansion some magnificent 
elms, splendid both in size and form, and one 
gigantic broad-browed oak the real oak of the 
English forest that must have seen many cen- 
turies." Its upper boughs have now gone, but 
its huge trunk and lower foliage still remain. 

It is of this oak that a poetess of the day 
wrote : 

" Triumphant o'er the tooth of time 
And o'er the woodman's blade, 
Yon oak still rears its head sublime 
And spreads its ample shade." 

A propos of Ufton Court, with its ingeniously 
contrived hiding-places for unhappy refugees, 
Miss Mitford writes : "I am indebted to my 
friend Mrs. Hughes for the account of another 
hiding-place in which the interest is ensured 
by that charm of charms an unsolved and 
insoluble mystery." 

On some alterations being projected in a large 
mansion in Scotland belonging to the late Sir 
George Warrender, the architect, after examin- 


Mary Russell Mitford 

ing and, so to say, studying the house, declared 
that there was a space in the centre for which 
there was no accounting, and that there must 
certainly be a concealed chamber. Neither 
master nor servants had ever heard of such a 
thing, and the assertion was treated with some 
scorn. The architect, however, persisted, and 
at last proved by the sure test of measurement 
. . . that the space he had spoken of did exist, 
and as no entrance of any sort could be dis- 
covered from the surrounding rooms it was 
resolved to make an incision in the wall. A 
large and lofty apartment was disclosed, richly 
and completely furnished as a bed-chamber ; a 
large four-post bed, spread with blankets, coun- 
terpanes, and the finest sheets was prepared for 
instant occupation. The very wax lights in 
the candlesticks stood ready for lighting. The 
room was heavily hung and carpeted as if to 
deaden sound, and was of course perfectly dark. 
No token was found to indicate the intended 
occupant, for it did not appear to have been 
used, and the general conjecture was that the 
refuge had been prepared for some unfortunate 
Jacobite in the '15, who had either fallen into 
the hands of the Government or had escaped 
from the kingdom. 


Miss MITFORD writes in 1830 : 

" Our village continues to stand pretty much 
where it did, and has undergone as little change 
in the last two years as any hamlet of its inches 
in the county. ... I have hinted that it had 
a trick of standing still, of remaining stationary, 
unchanged and unimproved in this most change- 
able and improving world. . . . There it stands, 
the same long straggling street of pretty cottages 
divided by pretty gardens, wholly unchanged 
in size or appearance, unincreased and un- 
diminished by a single brick. 

" Ah, the in-and-out cottage ! the dear, dear 
home ! ... No changes there ! except that 
the white kitten who sits purring at the window 
under the great myrtle has succeeded to his 
lamented grandfather, our beautiful Persian cat. 
I cannot find an alteration. To be sure, yes- 
terday evening a slight misfortune happened to 
our goodly tenement, occasioned by the un- 
lucky diligence which, under the conduct of a 


Mary Russell Mitford 

sleepy coachman and a restive horse, contrived 
to knock down and demolish the wall of our 
court, and fairly to drive through the front 
garden, thereby destroying sundry curious 
stocks, carnations and geraniums. It is a mercy 
that the unruly steed was content with batter- 
ing the wall. . . . There was quite din enough 
without any addition. The three insides (ladies) 
squalling from the interior of that commodious 
vehicle ; the outsides (gentlemen) swearing on 
the roof ; the coachman still half asleep, but 
unconsciously blowing his horn ; we in the 
house screaming and scolding ; the passers-by 
shouting and hallooing ; May, who little brooked 
such an invasion of her territories, barking in 
her tremendous lion note, and putting down the 
other noises like a clap of thunder. The passen- 
gers, coachman, horses and spectators all righted 
at last, and no harm done but to my flowers 
and to the wall. May, however, stands bewail- 
ing the ruins, for that low wall was her favourite 
haunt ; she used to parade backwards and for- 
wards on the top of it as if to show herself, just 
after the manner of a peacock on the top of a 
house. But the wall is to be rebuilt to-morrow 
with old weather-stained bricks no patch- 
work ! exactly in the same form ; May herself 
will not find out the difference, so that in the 
way of alteration this little misfortune will pass 


A Further Glance at Our Village 

for nothing. Neither have we any improve- 
ments worth calling such, except that the 
wheeler's green door has been retouched out of 
the same pot (as I judge from the tint) with 
which he furbished up our new-old pony-chaise ; 
that the shop window of our neighbour, the 
universal dealer Bromley's, hath been beautified, 
and his name and calling splendidly set forth in 
yellow letters on a black ground ; and that our 
landlord of the ' Rose '-has hoisted a new sign 
of unparalleled splendour." 

Miss Mitford happened to possess an " his- 
toric staff " which she greatly valued, and 
which had been handed down from one relative 
to another from its former owner that Duchess 
of Athol and Lady of Man of whom mention 
has been made in an earlier chapter. 

At the period we are writing of Miss Mitford 
used the staff rather as an ornament than other- 
wise, being then, as she says, " the best walker 
of her years for a dozen miles round " ; but in 
later life she was glad of its support. " Now 
this staff/' she writes, " one of the oldest friends 
I have in the world, is pretty nearly as well 
known as myself in our Berkshire village." 

One day the stick was not to be found in its 
usual place in the hall, " it was missing, was 
gone, was lost ! ' ; A great search was made for 
it^far and wide. " Really, ma'am," quoth her 

T 273 

Mary Russell Mitford 

faithful maid, " there is some comfort in the 
interest the people take in the stick ! If it were 
anything alive the pony, or Fanchon, or our- 
selves they could not be more sorry. Master 
Brent, ma'am, at the top of the street, he 
promises to speak to everybody, so does William 
Wheeler, who goes everywhere, and Mrs. Brom- 
ley at the shop ; and the carrier and the post- 
man. I daresay the whole parish knows it by 
this time ! I have not been outside the gate 
to-day, but a dozen people have asked me if we 
had heard of our stick ! ' 

The bustle of the village and the anxiety of 
Mary were, however, soon to be allayed. "At 
ten o'clock one evening a rustling of the front 
door latch was heard, together with a pattering 
of little feet, then the little feet advanced into 
the house and some little tongues gained 
courage to tell their good news the stick was 
found ! 

An intimate friend of Miss Mitford's, a certain 
Miss James, of Binfield Park, had been staying 
for a short time at the inn hard by, on which 
occasion Mary addressed the following lines to 
her : 

" The village inn ! The wood-fire burning bright, 
The solitary taper's flickering light ! 
The lowly couch ! the casement swinging free ! 
My noblest friend, was this a place for thee ? 

A Further Glance at Our Village 

Yet in that humble room, from all apart, 

We poured forth mind for mind and heart for heart, 

Ranging from idlest words and tales of mirth 

To the deep mysteries of heaven and earth. 

No fitting place ; yet (inconsistent strain 
And selfish) come, I prythee ! come again." 

In a story entitled The Black Velvet Bag Miss 
Mitford has given an amusing account of some 
of her shopping experiences in " Belford Regis/' 
her name for Reading, where the various pur- 
chases for the small household of Three Mile 
Cross were usually made. 

" Last Friday fortnight," she writes, " was 
one of those anomalies in the weather with 
which we English people are visited for our 
sins ; a day of intolerable wind and insupport- 
able dust, an equinoctial gale out of season, a 
piece of March unnaturally foisted into the very 
heart of May. ... On that day did I set forth 
to the good town of B - on the feminine 
errand called shopping. I am a true daughter 
of Eve, a dear lover of bargains and bright 
colours, and, knowing this, have generally been 
wise enough to keep as much as I can out of 
temptation. At last a sort of necessity arose 
for some slight purchases. The shopping was 
inevitable, and I undertook the whole concern 
at once, most heroically resolving to spend just 


Mary Russell Mitford 

so much and no more, and half comforting 
myself that I had a full morning's work of 
indispensables and should have no time for 
extraneous extravagances. 

" There was to be sure a prodigious accumu- 
lation of errands and wants. The evening before 
they had been set down in great form on a slip 
of paper headed thus ' things wanted/ To 
how many and various catalogues that title 
would apply from him who wants a blue 
riband to him who wants bread and cheese ! 
My list was astounding. It was written in 
double columns in an invisible hand. ... In 
good open printing it would have cut a respect- 
able figure as a catalogue and filled a decent 
number of pages a priced catalogue too, for 
as I had a given sum to carry to market I amused 
myself with calculating the proper and probable 
cost of every article, in which process I most 
egregiously cheated the shop-keeper and myself 
by copying with the credulity of hope from the 
puffs of newspapers, and expecting to buy fine 
solid wearable goods at advertising prices. In 
this way I stretched my money a good deal 
further than it would go, and swelled my cata- 
logue, so that at last, in spite of compression, 
I had no room for another word, and was 
obliged to crowd several small but important 
articles such as cotton, laces, pins, needles, 


A Further Glance at Our Village 

shoe-strings, etc., into that very irregular and 
disorderly store-house that place where most 
things deposited are lost my memory, by 
courtesy so called. 

" The written list was safely consigned, with 
a well-filled purse, to my usual repository, a 
black velvet bag, and the next morning I and 
my bag, with its nicely balanced contents of 
wants and money, were safely convoyed in a 
little open carriage to the good town of B . 
There I dismounted and began to bargain most 
vigorously, visiting the cheapest shops, cheapen- 
ing the cheapest articles, yet wisely buying the 
strongest and the best, a little astonished at 
first to find everything so much dearer than I 
had set it down, yet soon reconciled to this 
misfortune by the magical influence which 
shopping possesses over a woman's fancy all 
the sooner reconciled as the monetary list lay 
unlocked at and unthought of in its grave 
receptacle, the black velvet bag. 

" On I went with an air of cheerful business, 
of happy importance, till my money began to 
wax small. Certain small aberrations had 
occurred, too, in my economy. One article that 
had happened, by rare accident, to be below 
my calculation, and indeed below any calcula- 
tion calico at ninepence, fine, thick, strong, 
wide calico at ninepence absolutely enchanted 


Mary Russell Mitford 

me and I took the whole piece ; then after buy- 
ing M. [material for] a gown according to order, 
I saw one that I liked better and bought that 
too. Then I fell in love, was actually captivated 
by a sky-blue sash and handkerchief, not the 
poor, thin greeny colour which usually passes 
under that dishonoured name, but the rich full 
tint of the noonday sky, and a cap riband 
really pink that might have vied with the inside 
leaves of a moss-rose. Then in hunting after 
cheapness I got into obscure shops where, not 
finding what I asked for, I was fain to take 
something that they had, purely to make a 
compensation for the trouble of lugging out 
drawers and answering questions. Lastly I was 
fairly coaxed into some articles by the irresisti- 
bility of the sellers, [in one case] by the fluent 
impudence of a lying shopman who, under cover 
of a well-darkened window, affirmed on his 
honour that his brown satin was a perfect match 
to my green pattern, and forced the said satin 
down my throat accordingly. With these helps 
my money melted all too fast ; at half -past five 
my purse was entirely empty, and as shopping 
with an empty purse has by no means the relish 
of shopping with a full one I was quite willing 
and ready to go home to dinner, pleased as a 
child with my purchases and wholly unsuspect- 
ing the sins of omission, the errands unper- 


A Further Glance at Our Village 

formed, which were the natural result of my 
unconsulted memoranda and my treacherous 

" Home I returned a happy and proud 
woman, wise in my own conceit, a thrifty 
fashion-monger, laden like a pedlar, with huge 
packages in stout brown holland tied up with 
whipcord, and genteel little parcels papered 
and pack-threaded in shopman-like style. At 
last we were safely stowed in the pony-chaise, 
which had much ado to hold us, my little black 
bag as usual in my lap. When we ascended the 
steep hill out of B - a sudden puff of wind 
took at once my cottage-bonnet and my large 
cloak, blew the bonnet off my head so that it 
hung behind me, suspended by the riband, and 
fairly snapped the string of the cloak, which 
flew away much in the style of John Gilpin's 
renowned in story. My companion, pitying my 
plight, exerted himself manfully to regain the 
fly-away garments, shoved the head into the 
bonnet, or the bonnet over the head (I do not 
know which phrase best describes the manoeuvre) , 
with one hand and recovered the refractory 
cloak with the other. It was wonderful what a 
tug he was forced to give before that obstinate 
cloak could be brought round ; it was swelled 
with the wind like a bladder, animated, so to 
say, like a living thing, and threatened to carry 


Mary Russell Mitford 

pony and chaise and riders and packages back- 
ward down the hill, as if it had been a sail of a 
ship. At last the contumacious garment was 
mastered. We righted, and by dint of sitting 
sideways and turning my back on my kind 
comrade, I got home without any further damage 
than the loss of my bag, which, though not 
missed before the chaise had been unladen, had 
undoubtedly gone by the board in the gale, and 
I lamented my trusty companion without in the 
least foreseeing the use it would probably be of 
to my reputation. 

" Immediately after dinner I produced my 
purchases. They were much admired, and the 
quantity when spread out in our little room 
being altogether dazzling, and the quality satis- 
factory, the cheapness was never doubted. 
Nobody calculated, and the bills being really 
lost in the lost bag, and the particular prices 
just as much lost in memory (the ninepenny 
calico was the only article whose cost occurred 
to me), I passed, without telling anything like 
a fib, merely by a discreet silence, for the best 
and thriftiest bargainer that ever went shopping. 
After some time spent very pleasantly in ad- 
miration on one side and display on the other 
we were interrupted by the demand for some 
of the little articles which I had forgotten. 

" ' The sewing-silk, please, ma'am/ 


A Further Glance at Our Village 

" ' Sewing-silk ! I don't know look about/ 

" Ah ! she might look long enough ! no sew- 
ing-silk was there. ' Very strange/ 

" Presently came other enquiries. ' Where's 
the tape ? ' ' The tape ! ' 

" ' Yes, my dear ; and the needles, pins, 
cotton, stay-laces, boot-laces/ 

" ' The bobbin, the ferret, shirt buttons, shoe- 
strings ? ' quoth she of the sewing-silk, taking 
up the cry, and forthwith began a search. . . . 
At last she suddenly desisted from her rummage. 

" ' Without doubt, ma'am, they are in the 
reticule, and all lost/ said she in a very pathetic 

" ' Really/ said I, a little conscious stricken, 
' I don't recollect, perhaps I might forget/ 

" ' But you never could forget so many 
things ; besides, you wrote them down/ 

" ' I don't know. I am not sure/ But I was 
not listened to ; Harriet's conjecture had been 
metamorphosed into a certainty ; all my sins 
of omission were stowed in the reticule, and 
before bed-time the little black bag held for- 
gotten things enough to fill a sack. 

" Never was reticule so lamented by all but 
its owner ; a boy was immediately dispatched 
to look for it, and on his returning empty- 
handed there was even a talk of having it cried. 
My care, on the other hand, was all directed to 


Mary Russell Mitford 

prevent its being found. I had had the good 
luck to lose it in a suburb of B- renowned 
for filching, and I remembered that the street 
was at that moment full of people ... so I 
went to bed in the comfortable assurance that 
it was gone for ever. 

tf But there is nothing certain in this world 
not even a thief's dishonesty. Two old women, 
who had pounced at once on my valuable pro- 
perty, quarrelled about the plunder, and one 
of them in a fit of resentment at being cheated 

of her share went to the mayor of B and 

informed against her companion. The mayor, 
an intelligent and active magistrate, immediately 
took the disputed bag and all its contents into 
his own possession, and as he is also a man of 
great politeness he restored it as soon as possible 
to the right owner. The very first thing that 
saluted my eyes when I awoke in the morning 
was a note from Mr. Mayor with a sealed packet. 
The fatal truth was visible. There it lay, that 
identical black bag, with its name-tickets, its 
cambric handkerchief, its unconsulted list and 
its thirteen bills. ... I had recovered my reti- 
cule and lost my reputation ! ' 


MARY RUSSELL MITFORD had strong likes and 
dislikes. Her American friend Mr. James T. 
Fields, who knew her well, remarks :* " She 
loathed mere dandies, and there were no 
epithets too hot for her contempt in that direc- 
tion. Old beaux she heartily despised, and 
speaking of one whom she had known, I remem- 
ber she quoted with a fine scorn this appro- 
priate passage from Dickens : ' Ancient, dan- 
dified men, those crippled invalides from the 
campaign of vanity, where the only powder was 
hair-powder and the only bullets fancy balls/ 

In one of her stories we come upon such a 
character Mr. Thompson as she calls him a 
gentleman who had just arrived from London, 
and whom she met at the house of a friend. 

" Mr. Thompson was a gentleman of about 
Pshaw ! nothing is so impolite as to go guessing 
how many, years a man may have lived in this 
most excellent world, especially when it is per- 

1 See Yesterdays with Authors. 

Mary Russell Mitford 

fectly clear from his dress and demeanour that 
the register of his birth is the last document 
relating to himself which he would care to see 

" Mr. Thompson then was a gentleman of no 
particular age, not quite so young as he had 
been, but still in very tolerable preservation, 
being pretty exactly that which is understood 
by the phrase an Old Beau." 

And then, after describing the very artificial 
appearance of his physiognomy, she goes on to 
say : " Altogether it was a head calculated to 
convey a very favourable impression of the 
different artists employed in getting it up." 

A very different personage to the Old Beau 
is described by Miss Mitford in a tale entitled 
An Admiral on Shore. 

Admiral Floyd, for so she calls him, had 
recently come with his wife to reside in the 
neighbourhood, and it was when paying a call 
upon them in their new home a fine old 
mansion standing in beautiful grounds, known 
"as the White House at Hannonby that she 
first made bis acquaintance. 

" I had been proceeding to call on our new 
neighbours," writes Miss Mitford, " when a very 
unaccountable noise induced me to pause at the 
entrance ; a moment's observation explained 
the nature of the sound. The Admiral was 


Eccentric Neighbours 

shooting wasps with a pocket pistol. . . . There 
under the shade of tall elms sat the veteran, a 
little old withered man, very like a pocket pistol 
himself, brown, succinct, grave and fiery. He 
wore an old-fashioned naval uniform of blue, 
faced with white, which set off his mahogany 
countenance, drawn into a thousand deep 
wrinkles. ... At his side stood a very tall, 
masculine, large-boned, middle-aged woman, 
something like a man in petticoats, whose face, 
in spite of a quantity of rouge and a small por- 
tion of modest assurance, might still be called 
handsome, and could never be mistaken for 
belonging to other than an Irish woman. . . . 
A younger lady was watching them at a little 
distance apparently as much amused as myself. 
On her advancing to meet me the pistol was 
put down and the Admiral joined us. We were 
acquainted in a moment, and before the end of 
my visit he had shown me all over his house and 
told me the whole history of his life and adven- 

" At twelve years old he was sent to sea, and 
had remained there ever since till now, when 
an unlucky promotion had sent him ashore and 
seemed likely to keep him there. I never saw 
a man so unaffectedly displeased with his own 

" Being, however, on land, his first object was 

Mary Russell Mitford 

to make his residence as much like a man-of-war 
as possible, or rather as much like that beau- 
ideal of a habitation, his last frigate, the Mer- 
maiden, in which he had by different prizes 
made above sixty thousand pounds. By that 
standard his calculations were regulated. All 
the furniture of the White House at Hannonby 
was adapted to the proportions of His Majesty's 
ship the Mer maiden. The great drawing-room 
was fitted up exactly on the model of her cabin, 
and the whole of that spacious and commodious 
mansion made to resemble as much as possible 
that wonderfully inconvenient abode, the inside 
of a ship ; everything crammed into the smallest 
possible compass, space most unnecessarily 
economized and contrivances devised for all 
those matters which need no contriving at all. 
He victualled the house as for an East India 
voyage, served out the provisions in rations, 
and swung the whole family in hammocks. 

" It will easily be believed that these innova- 
tions in a small village in a Midland county, 
where nineteen-twentieths of the inhabitants 
had never seen a piece of water larger than 
Hannonby great pond, occasioned no small 
commotion. The poor Admiral had his own 
troubles ; at first every living thing about the 
place rebelled there was a general mutiny ; 
the very cocks and hens, whom he had crammed 


Eccentric Neighbours 

up in coops in the poultry yard, screamed aloud 
for liberty ; and the pigs, ducks and geese, 
equally prisoners, squeaked and gabbled for 
water ; the cows lowed in their stall ; the sheep 
bleated in their pens ; the whole livestock of 
Hannonby was in durance. 

" The most unmanageable of these com- 
plainers were, of course, the servants ; with the 
men, after a little while, he got on tolerably, 
sternness and grog (the wind and sun of the 
fable) conquered them. His staunchest oppo- 
nents were of the other sex, the whole tribe of 
housemaids and kitchenmaids abhorred him to 
a woman, and plagued and thwarted him every 
hour of the day. He, on his part, returned their 
aversion with interest ; talked of female stu- 
pidity., female awkwardness and female dirt, 
and threatened to compound an household of 
the crew of the Mermaiden that should shame 
all the twirlers of mops and brandishers of 
brooms in the county. 

" Especially he used to vaunt the abilities of 
, a certain Bill Jones as the best laundress, semp- 
stress, cook and housemaid in the navy ; him 
he was determined to procure to keep his re- 
fractory household in some order ; accordingly 
he wrote to desire his presence, and Bill, unable 
to resist the summons of his old commander, 
arrived accordingly. . . . 


Mary Russell Mitford 

" The dreaded major-domo turned out to be 
a smart young sailor of four or five-and-twenty, 
with an arch smile, a bright, merry eye and a 
most knowing nod, b,y no means insensible to 
female objurgation or indifferent to female 
charms. The women of the house, particularly 
the pretty ones, soon perceived their power, 
and as the Admirable Crichton of His Majesty's 
ship the Mermaiden had amongst his other 
accomplishments the address completely to 
govern his master, all was soon in the smoothest 
track possible. . . . Under his wise direction 
and discreet patronage a peace was patched up 
between the Admiral and his rebellious hand- 

" Soothed, guided and humoured by his 
trusty adherent, and influenced perhaps by the 
force of example and the effect of the land 
breeze which he had never breathed so long 
before, our worthy veteran soon began to show 
symptoms of a man of this world. He took to 
gardening and farming, for which Bill Jones 
had also a taste, set free his prisoners in the 
basse-cour to the unutterable glorification and 
crowing of cock and hen and gabbling of goose 
and turkey, and enlarged his own walk from 
pacing backwards and forwards in the dining- 
room, followed by his old shipmates, a New- 
foundland dog and a tame goat, into a stroll 


Eccentric Neighbours 

round his own grounds, to the great delight of 
those faithful attendants. 

" . . . Amongst the country people he soon 
became popular. They liked the testy little 
gentleman, who dispensed his beer and grog so 
bountifully, and talked to them so freely. He 
would have his own way to be sure, but then 
he paid for it ; besides, he entered into their 
tastes and amusements, promoted May-games, 
revels and other country sports, patronized 
dancing dogs and monkeys and bespoke plays 
in barns. Above all he had an exceeding par- 
tiality for vagrants, strollers, gipsies and such 
like persons, listened to their tales with a 
delightful simplicity of belief, pitied them, 
relieved them, fought their battles at the bench 
and the vestry, and got into two or three 
scrapes with constables and magistrates by the 
activity of his protection. 

" Only one counterfeit sailor with a sham 
wooden leg he found out at a question and, by 
aid of Bill Jones, ducked in the horse-pond for 
an impostor, till the unlucky wretch, a thorough 
landlubber, was nearly drowned, an adventure 
which turned out the luckiest of his life, he 
having carried his case to an attorney, who 
forced the Admiral to pay fifty pounds for the 

" Our good veteran was equally popular 
u 289 

Mary Russell Mitford 

amongst the gentry of the neighbourhood. His 
own hospitality was irresistible, and his frank- 
ness and simplicity, mixed with a sort of petu- 
lant vivacity, combined to make him a most 
welcome relief to the dullness of a country dinner 
party. He enjoyed society extremely, and even 
had a spare bed erected for company, moved 
thereto by an accident which befell the fat 
rector of Kinton, who, having unfortunately 
consented to sleep at Hannonby one wet night, 
had alarmed the whole house, and nearly broken 
his own neck by a fall from his hammock. . . . 
His reading was none of the most extensive : 
Robinson Crusoe, the Naval Chronicle, Southey's 
admirable Life of Nelson and Smollett's novels 
formed the greater part of his library, and for 
other books he cared little. 

" For the rest he was a most kind and excel- 
lent person, although a little testy and not a 
little absolute, and a capital disciplinarian, 
although addicted to the reverse sins of making 
other people tipsy whilst he kept himself sober, 
and of sending forth oaths in volleys whilst he 
suffered none other to swear. He had besides 
a few prejudices incident to his condition loved 
his country to the point of hating all the rest 
of the world, especially the French, and regarded 
his own profession with a pride which made 
him intolerant of every other. To the army he 


Eccentric Neighbours 

had an intense and growing hatred, much 
augmented since victory upon victory had de- 
prived him of the comfortable feeling of scorn. 
The battle of Waterloo fairly posed him. ' To 
be sure to have drubbed the French was a fine 
thing a very fine thing no denying that ! 
but why not have fought out the quarrel by 
sea ? ' " 



Miss MITFORD delighted in all the simple 
pleasures of country life, and entered into them 
with the enthusiasm of youth. 

On a certain morning in spring-time she and 
her father set out in their pony-chaise to attend 
the " Maying " at Bramley. 

" Never was a day more congenial to a happy 
purpose," she writes. " It was a day made for 
country weddings and dances on the green a 
day of dazzling light, of ardent sunshine falling 
on hedgerows and meadows fresh with spring 
showers. . . . We passed through the well- 
known and beautiful scenery of W- - 1 Park 

and the pretty village of M 2 with a feeling 

of new admiration, as if we had never before 
felt their charms. ... On we passed gaily and 
happily as far as we knew our way, perhaps a 
little further, for the place of our destination 
was new to both of us, when we had the luck, 
good or bad, to meet with a director in the 

1 Wokefield Park. 2 Mortimer. 


The May-Houses 

person of the butcher of M . He soon gave 
us the customary and unintelligible directions 
as to lanes and turnings, first to the right, then 
to the left, etc. ... 

" On we went, twisting and turning through 
a labyrinth of lanes . . . till we came suddenly 
on a solitary farm-house which had one solitary 
inmate, a smiling, middle-aged woman, who 
came to us and offered her services with the 
most alert civility. 

" All her boys and girls were gone to the May- 
ing, she said, and she remained to keep house. 

" ' The Maying ! We are near Bramley then ? 
Is there no carriage road ? Where are we ? ' 

" ' At Silchester, close to the walls, only half 
a mile from the church.' 

" ' At Silchester ! ' and in ten minutes we 
had said a thankful farewell to our kind infor- 
mant, had retraced our steps a little, had turned 
up another lane, and found ourselves &t the foot 
of that commanding spot which antiquaries call 
the amphitheatre, close under the walls of the 
Roman city." 

Miss Mitford has written the following lines 
on this striking scene : 

" Firm as rocks thy ruins stand 
And hem around thy fertile land ; 
That land where once a city fair 
Flourished and pour'd her thousands there : 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Where now the waving cornfields glow 
And trace thy wide streets as they grow. 
Ah ! chronicle of ages gone, 
Thou dwellest in thy pride alone." 

" Under the walls," she continues, " I [met] 
an old acquaintance, the schoolmaster of Sil- 
chester, who happened to be there in his full 
glory, playing the part of cicerone to a party 
of ladies, and explaining far more than he knows, 
or than anyone knows of streets and gates and 
sites of temples, which, by the way, the worthy 
pedagogue usually calls parish churches. I 
never was so glad to see him in my life, never 
thought he could have spoken with so much 
sense and eloquence as were comprised in the 
two words ' straight forward/ by which he 
answered our enquiry as to the road to Bramley. 

" And forward we went by a way beautiful 
beyond description, and left the venerable walls 
behind us. ... But I must loiter on the road 
no longer. Our various -delays of a broken 
bridge a bog another wrong turning and a 
meeting with a loaded waggon in a lane too 
narrow to pass all this must remain untold. 

" At last we reached a large farm-house at 
Bramley ; another mile remained to the Green, 
but that was impassable. Nobody thinks of 
riding at Bramley. . . . We must walk, but 
the appearance of gay crowds of rustics, all 


The May-Houses 

passing along one path, gave assurance that 
this time we should not lose our way. . . . 
Cross two fields more and up a quiet lane and 
we are at the Maying, announced afar off by 
the merry sound of music and the merrier 
clatter of childish voices. Here we are at the 
Green, a little turfy spot where three roads 
meet, close, shut in by hedgerows, with a pretty 
white cottage and its long slip of a garden at 
one angle. ... In the midst grows a superb 
horse-chestnut in the full glory of its flowery 
pyramids, and from the trunk of this chestnut 
the May-houses commence. They are covered 
alleys built of green boughs, decorated with 
garlands and great bunches of flowers the 
gayest that blow lilacs, guelder roses, peonies, 
tulips, stocks hanging down like chandeliers 
among the dancers ; for of dancers, gay, dark- 
eyed young girls in straw bonnets and white 
gowns, and their lovers in their Sunday attire, 
the May-houses were full. The girls had mostly 
the look of extreme youth, and danced well and 
quietly like ladies too much so. ... Outside 
was the fun. It is the outside, the upper 
gallery of the world that has that good thing. 
There were children laughing, eating, trying to 
cheat and being cheated round an ancient and 
practised vender of oranges and ginger-bread ; 
and on the other side of the tree lay a merry 


Mary Russell Mitford 

group of old men. . . . That group would have 
suited Teniers ; it smoked and drank a little, 
but it laughed a great deal more. There were 
. * . young mothers strolling about with in- 
fants in their arms, and ragged boys peeping 
through the boughs at the dancers, and the 
bright sun shining gloriously on all this innocent 
happiness. Oh, what a pretty sight it was 
worth losing our way for ! ' 

We hear of another Maying which took place 
in a neighbouring hamlet of " Our Village/' 
which Miss Mitford calls Whitley Wood, into 
which narrative is interwoven an amusing 
account of the love affairs of mine host of the 
" Rose " the village inn hard by the Mit fords' 

" Landlord Sims, the master of the revels," 
writes Miss Mitford, "and our very good neigh- 
bour, is a portly, bustling man of five-and-forty 
or thereabout, with a hale, jovial visage, a merry 
eye, a pleasant smile and a general air of good- 
fellowship. . . . There is not a better com- 
panion or a more judicious listener in the 
county. . . . No one can wonder at Master 
Sim's popularity. 

" After his good wife's death this popularity 
began to extend itself in a remarkable manner 
amongst the females of the neighbourhood. 
[His] Betsy and Letty were good little girls, 


The May-Houses 

quick, civil and active, yet, poor things, what 
could such young girls know of a house like the 
' Rose ' ? All would go to rack and ruin without 
the eye of a mistress ! Master Sims must look 
out for a wife. So thought the whole female 
world, and apparently Master Sims began to 
think so himself. 


' The first fair one to whom his attention was 
directed was a rosy, pretty widow, a pastry-cook 
of the next town who arrived in our village on 
a visit to her cousin the baker for the purpose 
of giving confectionery lessons to his wife. 
Nothing was ever so hot as that courtship. 
During the week that the lady of pie-crust 


Mary Russell Mitford 

stayed, her lover almost lived in the oven. . . . 
It would be a most suitable match, as all the 
parish agreed. . . . And when our landlord 

carried her back to B in his new-painted 

green cart all the village agreed that they were 
gone to be married, and the ringers were just 
setting up a peal when Master Sims returned 
alone, single, crestfallen, dejected ; the bells 
stopped of themselves, and we heard no more 
of the pretty pastry-cook. For three months 
after that rebuff mine host, albeit not addicted 
to assertions, testified an equal dislike to women 
and tartlets, widows and plum-cake. . . . 

" The fit, however, wore off in time, and he 
began again to follow the advice of his neigh- 
bours and to look out for a wife, up street and 
down street. . . . The down-street lady was a 
widow also, the portly, comely relict of our 
drunken village blacksmith, who began to find 
her shop, her journeymen and her eight children 
. . . rather more than a lone woman could 
manage, and to sigh for a helpmate to ease her 
of her cares. . . . Master Sims was the coad- 
jutor on whom she had inwardly pitched, and 
accordingly she threw out broad hints to that 
effect every time she encountered him . . . and 
Mr. Sims was far too gallant and too much in 
the habit of assenting to listen unmoved . . . 
and the whispers and smiles and hand-pressings 


The May-Houses 

were becoming very tender. . . . This was his 
down-street flame. 

" The rival lady was Miss Lydia Day, the 
carpenter's sister, a slim, upright maiden, not 
remarkable for beauty and not quite so young 
as she had been, who, on inheriting a small 
annuity from the mistress with whom she had 
spent the best of her days, retired to her native 
village to live on her means. A genteel, demure, 
quiet personage was Miss Lydia Day, much 
addicted to snuff and green tea, and not averse 
to a little gentle scandal for the rest a good 
sort of woman and un tres bon parti for Master 
Sims, who . . . made love to her whenever she 
came into his head. . . . Remiss as he was, he 
had no lack of encouragement to complain of 
for she . . . put on her best silk, and her best 
simper, and lighted up her faded complexion 
into something approaching a blush whenever 
he came to visit her. And this was Master Sims' 
up-street love. 

" So stood affairs at the ' Rose ' when the 
day of the Maying arrived, and the double 
flirtation . . . proved on this occasion ex- 
tremely useful. Each of the ladies contributed 
her aid to the festival, Miss Lydia by tying up 
sentimental garlands for the May-house . . . 
the widow by giving her whole bevy of boys 
and girls a holiday and turning them loose in 


Mary Russell Mitford 

the neighbourhood to collect flowers as they 

could. Very useful auxiliaries were these eight 

foragers ; they scoured the country far and near 

irresistible mendicants, pardonable thieves ! 

' ... By the time a cricket match [which 
opened proceedings] was over the world began 
to be gay at Whitley Wood. Carts and gigs and 
horses and carriages and people of all sorts 
arrived from all quarters. . . . Fiddlers, ballad- 
singers, cake, baskets Punch Master Frost 
crying cherries a Frenchman with dancing 
dogs a Bavarian woman selling brooms half 
a dozen stalls with fruit and frippery and 
twenty noisy games of quoits and bowls and 
ninepins gave to the assemblage the bustle, 
clatter and gaiety of a Dutch fair. Plenty of 
eating in the booths . . . and landlord Sims 
bustling everywhere, assisted by the little light- 
footed maidens, his daughters, all smiles and 
curtsies, and by a pretty black-eyed young 
woman name unknown with whom, even in 
the midst of his hurry, he found time, as it 
seemed to me, for a little philandering. What 
would the widow and Miss Lydia have said ? 
But they remained in happy ignorance the 
one drinking tea in most decorous primness in 
a distant marquee, the other in full chase after 
the most unlucky of all her urchins. 

" Meanwhile the band struck up in the May- 

The May-Houses 

house, and the dance, after a little dinner, was 
fairly set afloat an honest English country 
dance with ladies and gentlemen at the top 
and country lads and lassies at the bottom ; a 
happy mixture of cordial kindness on the one 
hand and pleased respect on the other. It was 
droll though to see the beplumed and beflowered 
French hats, the silks and the furbelows sailing 
and rustling amidst the straw bonnets and 
cotton gowns of the humbler dancers. 

" Well ! the dance finished, the sun went 
down, and we departed. The Maying is over, 
the booths carried away and the May-house 
demolished. Everything has fallen into its old 
position except the love affairs of landlord Sims. 
The pretty lass with the black eyes, who first 
made her appearance at Whitley Wood, is 
actually staying at the Rose Inn on a visit to 
his daughters, and the village talk goes that 
she is to be the mistress of that thriving hostelry 
and the wife of its master. . . . Nobody knows 
exactly who the black-eyed damsel may be but 
she's young and pretty and civil and modest, 
and without intending to depreciate the merits 
of either of her competitors, I cannot help 
thinking that our good neighbour has shown 
his taste." 


THE above title is given to many a delightful 
ramble to which Mary Russell Mitford takes 
her readers. 

Writing one day in the month of June, she 
exclaims: " What a glowing, glorious day! 
Summer in its richest prime, noon in its most 
sparkling brightness, little white clouds dappling 
the deep blue sky, and the sun, now partially 
veiled and now bursting through them with an 
intensity of light. . . . We are going to drive 
to the old house at Aberleigh, to spend a morn- 
ing under the shade of those balmy firs and 
amongst those luxuriant rose trees and by the 
side of that brimming Loddon river. 

" ' Do not expect us before six o'clock/ said 
I as I left the house. 

" ' Six at soonest/ added my charming com- 
panion, and off we drove in our little pony- 
chaise drawn by an old mare, and with the good- 
humoured urchin, Henry's successor, who takes 
care of horse and chaise, and cow and garden 
for our charioteer. 


Walks in the Country 

" My comrade . . . Emily is a person whom 
it is a privilege to know. She is quite like a 
creation of the older poets, and might pass for 
one of Shakespeare's or Fletcher's women 


stepped into life ; just as tender, as playful, as 
gentle and as kind. . . . 

" But here we are at the bridge ! Here we 
must alight ! ' This is the Loddon, Emily. Is 


Mary Russell Mitford 

it not a beautiful river ? rising level with its 
banks, so clear and smooth and peaceful . . . 
bearing on its pellucid stream the snowy water- 
lily, the purest of flowers, which sits enthroned 
on its own cool leaves looking chastity itself, 
like the lady in Comus. . . . We must dis- 
mount here and leave Richard to take care of 
our equipage under the shade of these trees 
whilst we walk up to the house. See, there it 
is ! We must cross this stile, there is no other 
way now. 

" And crossing the stile we were immediately 
... in full view of the Great House, a beautiful 
structure of James the First time, whose glass- 
less windows and dilapidated doors form a 
melancholy contrast with the strength and en- 
tireness of the rich and massive front. The 
story of that ruin for such it is is always to 
me singularly affecting. It is that of the decay 
of an ancient and distinguished family gradually 
reduced from the highest wealth and station to 
actual poverty. . . . But here we are in the 
smooth, grassy ride on the top of a steep turfy 
slope descending to the river, crowned with 
enormous firs and limes of equal growth, looking 
across the winding waters into a sweet, peaceful 
landscape of quiet meadows, shut in by distant 
woods. What a fragrance is in the air from 
the balmy fir trees and the blossomed limes ! 


Walks in the Country 

What an intensity of odour ! And what a mur- 
mur of bees in the lime trees ! And what a 
pleasant sound it is ! the pleasantest of busy 
sounds, that which comes associated with all 
that is good and beautiful industry and fore- 
cast, and sunshine and flowers. 

" Emily exclaimed in admiration as we stood 
under the deep, strong, leafy shadow and still 
more . . . when roses, really trees, almost in- 
tercepted our passage. 

" ' On, Emily ! farther yet ! Force your way 
by that jessamine it will yield ; I will take 
care of this stubborn white rose bough/ . . . 
After we won our way through that strait, at 
some expense of veils and flounces, she stopped 
to contemplate and admire the tall, graceful 
shrub whose long, thorny stems, spreading in 
every direction, had opposed our progress, and 
now waved those delicate clusters over our 
heads. . . . ' What an exquisite fragrance ! ' 
she exclaimed, * and what a beautiful ^flower ! 
so pale and white and tender, and the petals 
thin and smooth as silk ! What rose is it ? ' 

" ' Don't you know ? Did you never see it 
before? It is rare now, I believe, and seems 
rarer than it is because it only blossoms in very 
hot summers ; but this, Emily, is the musk-rose 
that very musk-rose of which Titania talks, 
and which is worthy of Shakespeare and of her/ ' 
x 305 

Mary Russell Mitford 

Having reached some steps that led to a 
square summer-house, formerly a banqueting- 
hall with a boat-house beneath it, they were 
soon close to the old mansion. " But it looked 
sad and desolate/' remarks Miss Mitford, " and 
the entrance, choked with brambles and nettles, 
seemed almost to repel our steps." 

Later on a halt was made on the further side 
of the river for " Emily " to take a sketch, and 
this entailed " a delicious walk, when the sun, 
having gone in, a reviving coolness seemed to 
breathe over the water," and, lastly, a drive 
home amid the lengthening shadows. So ended 
their pleasant jaunt. 

The old house known now as Arborfield 
House was rebuilt some years after Miss Mit- 
ford knew it. The style is, of course, quite 
modern, but the beautiful grounds, with their 
magnificent trees and the river winding through 
them, remain unchanged, together with the 
luxuriant flower gardens, but which are now 
carefully tended. We have wandered through 
those grounds and have seen the poplars and 
acacias and firs gracefully blending their foliage 
together as she has described them. 

Miss Mitford had a decided liking for gipsies, 
and they often figure in her village stories. 
" There is nothing under the sun/' she writes, 
" that harmonizes so well with nature, especi- 



Walks in the Country 

ally in her woodland recesses, as that picturesque 
people who are, so to say, the wild genus 
the pheasants and roebucks of the human 

race/ 1 

In one of these tales, after describing a spot of 
singularly wild beauty some miles distant from 
her home, where a dark deep pool lay beneath 
the shade of great trees, she says : 

" In this lovely place I first saw our gipsies. 
They had pitched their little tent under one of 
the oak trees. . , . The party consisted only of 
four an old crone in a tattered red cloak and 
black bonnet who was stooping over a kettle 
of which the contents were probably as savoury 
as that of Meg Merrilees, renowned in story ; a 
pretty black-eyed girl at work under the trees ; 
a sunburnt urchin of eight or nine, collecting 
sticks and dead leaves to feed their out-of-door 
fire ; and a slender lad two or three years older, 
who lay basking in the sun, with a couple of 
shabby dogs of the sort called mongrel in all 
the joy of idleness, whilst a grave, patient 
donkey stood grazing hard by. It was a pretty 
picture, with its soft autumnal sky, its rich 
woodiness, its sunshine, its verdure, the light 
smoke curling from the fire, and the group 
disposed around so harmless poor outcasts ! 
and so happy a beautiful picture ! I stood 
gazing at it till I was half ashamed to look 


Mary Russell Mitford 

longer, and came away half afraid that they 
should depart before I could see them again. 

" This fear I soon found to be groundless. 
The old gipsy was a celebrated fortune-teller. 
. . . The whole village rang with the predic- 
tions of this modern Cassandra. ... I myself 
could not help admiring the real cleverness, the 
genuine gipsy tact with which she adapted her 
foretellings to the age, the habits and the known 
desires and circumstances of her clients. 

" To our little pet Lizzie, for instance, a 
damsel of seven, she predicted a fairing ; to Ben 
Kirby, a youth of thirteen, head batter of the 
boys, a new cricket ball ; to Ben's sister Lucy, 
a girl some three years his senior, a pink top- 
knot ; whilst for Miss Sophia Matthews, an 
old-maidish schoolmistress . . . she foresaw 
one handsome husband ; and for the smart 
widow Simmons two, etc. etc. 

" No wonder that all the world that is to 
say all our world were crazy to have their 
fortunes told to enjoy the pleasure of hearing 
from such undoubted authority that what they 
wished to be should be. Amongst the most 
eager to take a peep into futurity was our 
pretty maid Harriet ; although her desire took 
the not unusual form of disclamation, ' nothing 
should induce her to have her fortune told, 
nothing upon earth ! ' ' She never thought of 


Walks in the Country 

the gipsy, not she ! ' and to prove the fact she said 
so at least twenty times a day. Now Harriet's 
fortune seemed told already ; her destiny was 
fixed. She, the belle of the village, was engaged, 
as everybody knows, to our village beau Joel 
Brent ; they were only waiting for a little 
more money to marry. . . . But Harriet, besides 
being a beauty, was a coquette, and her affec- 
tions for her betrothed did not interfere with 
certain flirtations which came like Isabella 
' by the by/ and occasionally cast a shadow of 
coolness between the lovers. There had prob- 
ably been a little fracas in the present instance, 
for she [remarked] ' that none but fools believed 
in gipsies ; that Joel had had his fortune told 
and wanted to treat her to a prophecy, but she 
was not such a simpleton.' 

" About half an hour after the delivery of 
this speech I happened, when tying up a 
chrysanthemum, to go to our wood yard for a 
stick of proper dimensions and there, enclosed 
between the faggot pile and the coal shed, stood 
the gipsy in the very act of palmistry, conning 
the lines of fate in Harriet's hand. . . . She was 
listening too intently to see me, but the fortune- 
teller did, and stopped so suddenly that her 
attention was awakened and the intruder dis- 

' Harriet at first meditated a denial. She 

Mary Russell Mitford 

called up a pretty unconcerned look, answered 
my silence (for I never spoke a word) by mutter- 
ing something about ' coals for the parlour/ 
and catching up my new-painted green water- 
ing-pot instead of the coal-scuttle began filling 
it with all her might . . . [while making] divers 
signs to the gipsy to decamp. The old sybil, 
however, budged not a foot, influenced probably 
by two reasons, one the hope of securing a 
customer in the new-comer, whose appearance 
is generally, I am afraid, the very reverse of 
dignified, rather merry than wise, the other a 
genuine fear of passing through the yard gate 
on the outside of which a much more imposing 
person, my greyhound Mayflower, who has a 
sort of beadle instinct anent drunkards and 
pilferers and disorderly persons of all sorts, 
stood barking most furiously. 

" . . . But the fair consulter of destiny, who 
had by this time recovered from the shame of 
her detection, extricated us from our dilemma 
by smuggling the old woman away through the 

" Of course, Harriet was exposed to some 
raillery and a good deal of questioning about 
her future fate, as to which she preserved an 
obstinate but evidently satisfied silence. At 
the end of three days, however, [the prescribed 
period] when all the family except herself had 


Walks in the Country 

forgotten the story, our pretty soubrette, half 
bursting with the long retention, took the 
opportunity of lacing on my new half-boots to 
reveal the prophecy. ' She was to see within 
the week, and this was Saturday, the young 
man, the real young man, whom she was to 

" ' Why, Harriet, you know, poor Joel/ 

" ' Joel indeed ! the gipsy said that the young 
man, the real young man, was to ride up to the 
house dressed in a dark great-coat (and Joe) 
never wore a great-coat in his life all the 
world knew that he wore smock-frocks and 
jackets) and mounted on a white horse and 
where should Joel get a white horse ? ' 

" ' Had this real young man made his appear- 
ance yet ? ' 

" ' No ; there had not been a white horse 
past the place since Tuesday ; so it must cer- 
tainly be to-day/ 

" A good look-out did Harriet keep for white 
horses during this fateful Saturday, and plenty 

did she see. It was the market day at B , 

and team after team came by with one, two and 
three white horses ; cart after cart and gig 
after gig, each with a white steed ; Colonel 

M 's carriage, with its prancing pair but 

still no horseman. At length one appeared, but 
he had a great-coat whiter than the animal he 


Mary Russell Mitford 

rode ; another, but he was old farmer Lewing- 
ton, a married man ; a third, but he was little 
Lord L , a schoolboy on his Arabian pony. 
Besides, they all passed the house. . . . 

:t At last, just at dusk, just as Harriet, making 
believe to close our casement shutters, was 
taking her last peep up the road something 
white appeared in the distance coming leisurely 
down the hill. Was it really a horse ? Was it 
not rather Titus Strong's cow driving home to 
milking ? A minute or two dissipated that 
fear ; it certainly was a horse, and as certainly 
it had a dark rider. Very slowly he descended 
the hill, pausing most provokingly at the end 
of the village, as if about to turn up the Vicarage 
lane. He came on, however, and after another 
short stop at the ' Rose/ rode full up to our 
little gate, and catching Harriet's hand as she 
was opening the wicket, displayed to the half- 
pleased, half-angry damsel the smiling, trium- 
phant face of her own Joel Brent, equipped in 
a new great-coat and mounted on his master's 
newly purchased market nag. Oh, Joel ! Joel ! 
The gipsy ! the gipsy ! " 


As Mary Russell Mitford's fame as a writer 
began to spread wider and wider her cottage 
became a centre of interest and attraction to 
all those who had learnt to love her works. 
Her chief biographer 1 a contemporary writes : 

" In the summer time when she gave straw- 
berry parties, the road leading to the cottage 
was crowded with the carriages of all the rank 
.and fashion in the county. By example as 
well as precept she ' brightened the path along 
which she dwelt/ Her kindly nature did not 
exhaust itself in a girlish enthusiasm for pets and 
flowers, but went forth to meet her fellow-men 
and women whose virtues seemed to expand 
and whose faults to vanish at her approach." 

Her conversation had a peculiar charm, con- 
sidered by some "to be even better than her 
books," delivered, as it was, by a " voice beau- 
tiful as a chime of bells." 

It was in the year 1847 that Miss Mitford 

1 Rev. A. G. L'Estrange. 

Mary Russell Mitford 

first made the acquaintance of Mr. James T. 
Fields a distinguished American both author 
and publisher whose " bright, genial, vivacious 
letters JJ and " spirited lectures on ' Charles 
Lamb/ ' Longfellow/ and others " are highly 
spoken of by contemporaries. 

Mr. Fields writes in his interesting book 
entitled Yesterday with Authors : 

" It was a fortunate hour for me when kind- 
hearted John Kenyon said, as I was leaving 
his hospitable door in London one summer 
midnight : ' you must know my friend Miss 
Mitford. She lives directly in the line of your 
route to Oxford, and you must call with my 
card and make her acquaintance/ The day 
selected for my call at her cottage door happened 
to be a perfect one in which to begin an ac- 
quaintance with the lady of ' Our Village/ She 
was then living at Three Mile Cross ... on 
the high road between Basingstoke and Reading 
[where] the village street contained the public- 
house and several small shops near-by. There 
was also close at hand the village pond full of 
ducks and geese, and I noticed several young 
rogues on their way to school were occupied in 
worrying their feathered friends. The windows 
of the cottage were filled with flowers, and 
cowslips and violets were plentifully scattered 
about the little garden. I remember the room 


A Centre of Interest 

into which I was shown was sanded, and a quaint 
old clock behind the door was marking off the 
hour in small but loud pieces. The cheerful 
lady called to me from the head of the stairs to 
come up into her sitting-room. I sat down by 
the open window to converse with her, and it 
was pleasant to see how the village children, as 
they went by, stopped to bow and curtsy. 
One curly-headed urchin made bold to take off 
his well-worn cap, and waited to be recognized 
as ' little Johnny/ ' No great scholar/ said 
the kind-hearted lady to me, ' but a sad rogue 
among our flock of geese. Only yesterday the 
young marauder was detected by my maid 
with a plump gosling stuffed half-way into his 
pocket ! ' While she was thus discoursing of > 
Johnny's peccadilloes, the little fellow looked up 
with a knowing expression, and very soon 
caught in his cap a gingerbread dog which she 
threw to him from the window. ' I wish he 
loved his book as well as he relishes sweet cakes/ 
she sighed, as the boy kicked up his heels and 
disappeared down the lane. . . . 

"From that day our friendship continued, 
and during other visits to England I saw her 
frequently, driving about the country with her 
in her pony-chaise and spending many happy 
hours in the new cottage which she afterwards 
occupied at Swallowfield. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

" . . . She was always cheerful and her talk 
is delightful to remember. From girlhood she 
had known and been intimate with most of the 
prominent writers of her time, and her observa- 
tions and reminiscences were so shrewd and 
pertinent that I have scarcely known her equal. 

" When she talked of Munden and Bannister 
and Fawcett and Emery, those delightful old 
actors for whom she had such an exquisite 
relish, she said they had made comedy to her 
a living art full of laughter and tears. How 
often have I heard her describe John Kemble, 
Mrs. Siddons, Miss O'Neil and Edmund Kean, as 
they were wont to electrify the town in her 
girlhood ! With what gusto she reproduced 
Elliston, who was one of her prime favourites, 
and tried to make me, through her representa- 
tion of him, feel what a spirit there was in the 
man. . . . 

" I well remember, one autumn evening, when 
half a dozen friends were sitting in her library 
after dinner, talking with her of Tom Taylor's 
life of Haydon, then lately published, how 
graphically she described to us the eccentric 
painter whose genius she was among the fore- 
most to recognize. The flavour of her discourse 
I cannot reproduce ; but I was too much 
interested in what she was saying to forget 
the main incidents she drew for our edification 


A Centre of Interest 

during those pleasant hours now far away in 
the past." 

William Howett had paid a visit to the 
cottage at Three Mile Cross in the late summer 
of 1835, which he described in an article that 
appeared in the Athenceum. As he drove from 
Reading he says : 

" The sound of the sheep bells came pleasantly 
from the pastures where the eye ranged over 
wide level fields cleared of their corn and all the 
wayside was hung with such heavy and jetty 
clusters of blackberries as scarcely ever were 
seen in another place. . . . And now I came to 
the sweetest lanes branching off right and left 
under trees that met across them and lo! 
' Three Mile Cross ! ' ' But which is Miss 
Mitford's cottage ? ' That was the question 
I asked of two women that stood in the street. 
' Oh, sir, you've passed it. It is where that green 
bush hangs over the wall/ I knocked and who 
came but Ben Kirby and no other, and who 
quickly presented herself but Mary Russell 
Mitford ! The very person that every reader 
must suppose her to be, the sunny-spirited, 
cordial-hearted, frank, kind, unaffected, genuine, 
English lady. 

" We had known each other before, though we 
had never seen each other, and we shook hands 
as old true friends should do ; and in the next 


Mary Russell Mitford 

moment passed through that ' nut-shell of a 
house ' (her own true expression) into a perfect 
paradise of flowers, and flowering fragrance. 
We passed along the garden into the conserva- 
tory, and found her father Dr. Mitford, the 
worthy magistrate, and two accomplished ladies 
her friends. 

" Now, if anyone should ask me to describe 
more particularly this place what can I say 
but that it is most graphically described by 
the writer herself ? Has she not told you that 
her garden is her great delight ? Has she not 
told you that in summer she and her honoured 
father live principally in the conservatory 
(a ' rural arcade ' as she calls it) and is it 
not so ? And is it not a sweet summer abode 
with that glowing, odorous bee-haunted garden 
all lying before it ? 

1 ' As we drove [later] along those umbrageous 
lanes, and crossed the sweet pastoral Loddon, 
she stayed her pony phaeton [at times] to ad- 
mire some goodly house, or picturesque par- 
sonage, [and I noticed that] every rustic face 
we met brightened into smiles, and for every 
one she had a counter smile, or a kind passing 
word. Everything you see of her only shows 
how truly she has spread the vitality of her 
heart over her pages, and everything you see 
of the country with what accuracy she sketches." 


A Centre of Interest 

"Mary was much pleased and touched by 
this graceful and warm-hearted account by 
Mr. Howett of his visit to Three Mile Cross, 
and she wrote to him on the subject. 

In his answer, written at Nottingham, after 
expressing his great satisfaction at her pleasure, 
he goes on to say : " I shall send you a paper 
to-morrow containing the account of the great 
cricket match played here between Sussex and 
Nottingham. . . . We wished you had been 
there a more animated sight of the kind you 
never saw. . . . 

" I could not help seeing what a wide differ- 
ence twenty years has produced in the character 
of the English population. What a contrast 
in this play to bull-baiting and cock-fighting ! 
So orderly, so manly, so generous in its char- 
acter. ... A sport that has no drawback of 
cruelty or vulgarity in it, but has every recom- 
mendation of skill, taste, health and generous 
rivalry. You, dear Miss Mitford/' he continues, 
" have done a great deal to promote this better 
spirit, and you could not have done more had 
you been haranguing Parliament, and bringing 
in bills for the purpose." 

There are many letters extant from Mary 

Howett to Miss Mitford, and we should like to 

give the following written in February, 1836 : 

" This new edition of Our Village I have been 

Y 321 

Mary Russell Mitford 

coveting ever since I saw the advertisement 
of it, and I will tell you why. It is one of those 
cheerful, spirited works, full of fair pictures 
of humanity which, especially when there are 
children who love reading, and being read to, 
becomes a household book, turned to again 
and again, and remembered and talked of 
with affection. So it is by our fireside, it is a 
work our little daughter has read and loves to 
read, and which our little son Alfred, a most in- 
domitable young gentleman, likes especially. . . . 
He is as yet a bad reader and therefore he is 
read to ; and his cry is ' Read me the Copse ! ' 
or ' Read me the Nutting/ or a ' Ramble into 
the Country I ' 

" Such, dear Miss Mitford, being the case 
when I saw the new edition advertised, I began 
to cast in my mind whether or not we could 
buy it, for perhaps you know that literary 
people, though makers of books, are not ex- 
clusive buyers thereof, you may think then what 
was my delight and the delight of us all 
when a parcel came in, the string was cut, and 
behold it contained no other than those long- 
coveted and favourite volumes ! Thank you, 
therefore, dearest Miss Mitford ; you have con- 
ferred a benefit upon our fireside which will 
make you even more beloved than formerly, 
for now we shall always have you at hand." 


A Centre of Interest 

Miss Mitford held communion either person- 
ally or by correspondence with several warm- 
hearted Americans, besides her friend Mr. 
James T. Fields. 

George Ticknor, the celebrated author of 
The History of Spanish Literature, and a partner 
in Mr. Fields' publishing firm, when on a visit 
to England in 1835, made a pilgrimage with 
his family to Three Mile Cross. He writes in 
his diary of this visit : 

" We found Miss Mitford living literally in 
a cottage neither ornee nor poetical, except 
inasmuch as it had a small garden, crowded 
with the richest and most beautiful profusion of 
flowers. She has the simplest and kindest 
manners, and entertained us for two hours 
with the most animated conversation, and a 
great variety of anecdote, without any of the 
pretensions of an author by profession, and 
without any of the stiffness that generally 
belongs to single ladies of her age and reputa- 

Writing to her afterwards he says : " We 
shall none of us ever forget the truly delightful 
evening we spent in your cottage at ' Our 
Village/ " 

Daniel Webster, the orator and patriot so 
greatly valued in the United States, also made 
his appearance in Three Mile Cross, together 


Mary Russell Mitford 

with some members of his family, in their 
transit from Oxford to Windsor. 

" My local position between these two points 
of attraction/' writes Mary, " has often pro- 
cured for me the gratification of seeing my 
American friends when making that journey ; 
but during this visit a little circumstance 
occurred so characteristic, so graceful, and so 
gracious that I cannot resist the temptation 
of relating it. 

" Walking in my cottage garden we talked 
naturally of the roses and pinks that sur- 
rounded us, and of the different indigenous 
flowers of our island and of the United States. 
. . . We spoke of the primrose and the cowslip 
immortalized by. Shakespeare and by Milton ; 
and the sweet-scented violets, both white and 
purple of our hedgerows and our lanes ; that 
known as the violet [yellow] being, I suspect, 
the little wild pansy (viola tricolor) renowned 
as the love-in-idleness of Shakespeare's famous 
compliment to Queen Elizabeth. ... I "ex- 
pressed an interest in two flowers known to me 
only by the vivid descriptions of Miss Mar- 
tineau ; the scarlet lily of New York and of 
the Canadian woods, and the original gentian 
of Niagara. I observed that our illustrious 
guest made some remark to one of the ladies 
of his party ; but I little expected that so soon 


A Centre of Interest 

after his return as seeds of these plants could be 
procured, I should receive a packet of each, 
signed and directed by his own hand. How 
much pleasure these little kindnesses give ! 
And how many such have come to me from 
over the same wide ocean ! ' 

On New Year's Day, 1830, Mrs. Mitford died 
after a short illness. An affecting account of 
her last hours was written by her daughter, in 
which she says : " No human being was ever 
so devoted to her duties so just, so pious, so 
charitable, so true, so feminine, so generous. . . . 
Never thinking of herself, the most devoted 
wife and the most faithful friend. She died in 
a good old age, universally beloved and re- 

Mrs. Mitford was buried in Shinfield Church 
the parish church of Three Mile Cross and the 
other surrounding villages where the Mitfords 
used to worship. We have visited the place, 
which does not seem to have changed much 
since Miss Mitford described it in one of her 
village stories. 

She speaks of " the tower of the old village 
church fancifully ornamented with brick-work, 
and of the churchyard planted with broad 
flowering limes and funereal yew-trees, also 
of a short avenue of magnificent oaks leading 
up to the church. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

' It stands," she says, " amidst a labyrinth 
of green lanes running through a hilly and 
richly wooded country whose valleys are 
threaded by the silver Loddon." 

In the month of June of this same year Mary 
received an interesting letter from the American 
authoress, Miss Sedgwick, whose works, especi- 
ally those for children, were much read in this 
country some years ago. 

" You cannot," she remarks, " be ignorant 
that your books are re-printed and widely 
circulated on this side of the Atlantic, but . . . 
it is probably difficult for you to realize that 
your name has penetrated beyond our maritime 
cities, and is familiar and honoured and loved 
through many a village circle, and to the borders 
of the lonely depths of unpierced woods that 
we venerate 'Mrs. Mosse' and are lovers of 
' Sweet Cousin Mary ' . . . and, in short, that 
your pictures have wrought on our affections 
like realities. 

" ... My niece, a child of nine years old, 
who is sitting by me, not satisfied with re- 
questing that her love may be sent to Miss 
Mitford, has boldly aspired to the honour of 
addressing a postscript to her, and I ... not 
forgetting who has allowed us a precedent for 
spoiling children, have consented to her wishes. 
Forgive us both, dear Miss Mitford." 


A Centre of Interest 

In her little letter the child asks after the 
various characters in, the stories that have 
taken her fancy, not forgetting the pretty 
greyhound Mayflower. 

Miss Mitford responds in the following way : 

" My dear young friend, 

" I am very much obliged to you for your 
kind enquiries respecting the people in my 
book. It is much to be asked about by a little 
lady on the other side of the Atlantic, and we 
are very proud of it accordingly. ' May ' was 
a real greyhound, and everything told of her 
was literally true ; but alas ! she is no more. . . . 
' Harriet ' and ' Joel ' are not married yet ; 
you shall have the very latest intelligence of her. 
I am expecting two or three friends to dinner 
and she is making an apple-tart and custards 
which I wish with all my heart that you and 
your dear aunt were coming to partake of. The 
rest of the people are all doing well in their 
several ways, and I am always, my dear little 


" Most sincerely yours, 

" M. R. MITFORD." 


IN the spring of 1836 Miss Mitford paid a short 
visit to London. She stayed in the house of 
her fathers old friend Sergeant Talfourd, No. 56 
Russell Square. Her stories were so well known 
by this time, and so universally admired, that 
she received quite an ovation from the literary 
world. Dinners and receptions were given in 
her honour, and she had the pleasure of meeting 
many a writer whose works she valued highly 
but whose personality was hitherto unknown 
to her. 

Amongst these was the poet Wordsworth. 
Writing to her father on May 26th she says : 

" Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Landor and Mr. 
White dined here. I like Mr. Wordsworth of 
all things ; he is a most venerable-looking old 
man, delightfully mild and placid, and most 
kind to me " ; and again she writes : " You 
cannot imagine how very very kindly Mr. 
Wordsworth speaks of my poor works. You 
who know what I think of him can imagine 


A London Welcome 

how much I am gratified by his praise." Speak- 
ing of the other guests, she says : 

''Mr. Landor is a very striking-looking person, 
and exceedingly clever. Also we had a Mr. 
Browning, a young poet (author of Paracelsus), 
and Mr. Proctor and Mr. Chorley, and quanti- 
ties more of poets, etc. . . . Mr. Willis has 
sailed for America. Mr. Moore and Miss Edge- 
worth are not in town. . . . 

" There was a curious affair to-night. All 
the Sergeants went to the play in a body [to 
see Sergeant Talfourd's Ion}. Lord Grey and 
his family were in a private box just opposite 
to us, and the house was filled with people of 
that class, and the pit crammed with gentlemen. 
Very very gratifying was it not ? ' 

Writing to her father on May 3ist Miss Mit- 
ford says : 

" At seven William [Harness] came to take 
me to Lord Dacre's. It is a small house, with a 
round table that only holds eight. The com- 
pany was William, Mrs. Joanna [Baillie], Mrs. 
Sullivan (Lady Dacre's daughter, the authoress), 
Lord and Lady Dacre, a famous talker called 
Bobus Smith (otherwise the great Bobus) and 
my old friend Mr. Young the actor, who was 
delighted to see me, and very attentive and kind 
indeed. But how kind they were ail ! ... 

' In the evening we had about fifty people, 

Mary Russell Mitford 

amongst others, Edwin Landseer, who invited 
himself to come and paint Dash. He is a charm- 
ing person ; recollected me instantly, and talked 
to me for two whole hours. . . . You may 
imagine that I was very gracious to the best 
dog painter that ever lived, who asked my 
leave to paint Dash. . . . Edwin Landseer says 
that it is the most beautiful and rarest race of 
dogs in existence the dogs who have most in- 
tellect and most countenance. Stanfield had 
talked to him of his intention to paint my 
country, and then Edwin Landseer resolved to 
paint my dog. . . . 

" Edwin Landseer has a fine Newfoundland 
dog whom he has often painted, and who is 
content to maintain his posture as long as his 
master keeps his palette in his hand, however 
long that may be ; but the moment the palette 
is laid down off darts Neptune and will sit no 
more that day. . . . 

" It is very odd that Mr. Knight should want 
to paint me. Mr. Lucas will make the most 
charming picture of all of you. 

" I told you, my dearest father, that Mr. 
Kenyon was to take me to the giraffes and the 
Diorama, with both of which I was delighted. 
A sweet young woman whom we called for in 
Gloucester Place went with us a Miss Barrett 
who reads Greek as I do French, and has 



A London Welcome 

published some translations from ^Eschylus and 
some most striking poems. She is a delightful 
young creature, shy and timid and modest. 
Nothing but her desire to see me got her out 
at all, but now she is coming to us to-morrow 
night also." 

Again she writes of her on further acquaint- 
ance : " Miss Barrett has translated the most 
difficult of the Greek plays (the Prometheus 
Bound}. If she be spared to the world you will 
see her passing all women and most men as a 
narrative and dramatic poet. Our sweet Miss 
Barrett ! to think of virtue and genius is to 
think of her. . . . She is so sweet and gentle 
and so pretty that one looks at her as if she 
were some bright flower." 

The two corresponded afterwards, and their 
letters are full of interest. We should like to 
quote a passage from one of Miss Barrett's upon 
the Greek drama. " The (Edipus is wonderful," 
she writes, " the sublime truth which pierces 
through to your soul like lightning seems to 
me to be the humiliating effect of guilt, even 
when unconsciously incurred. The abasement, 
the self-abasement, of the proud, high-minded 
King before the mean mediocre Creon, not 
because he is wretched, not because he is blind, 
but because he is criminal, appears to me a 
wonderful andjnost^affecting conception. And 


Mary Russell Mitford 

there is Euripides with his abandon to the 
pathetic, and ^Eschylus who sheds tears like a 
strong man and moves you to more because 
you know that his struggle is to restrain them." 

Miss Mitford writes to her friend in October 
of this year (1836) : 

" I have just read your delightful ballad. 1 
My earliest book was Percy's Reliques, the de- 
light of my childhood, and after them came 
Scott's Minstrelsy of the Borders, the favourite 
of my youth, so that I am prepared to love 
ballads, although perhaps a little biassed in 
favour of great directness and simplicity by the 
earnest plainness of my old pet. Do read 
Tennyson's Ladye of Shalott. You will be 
charmed with its spirit and picturesqueness. 

" Are you a great reader of the old English 
drama ? I am preferring it to every other 
sort of reading ; of course, admitting and re- 
gretting the grossness of the age, but that from 
habit one skips without a thought, just as I 
should over so much Greek or Hebrew which I 
knew that I could not comprehend. Have you 
read Victor Hugo's plays ? . . . and his Notre 
Dame ? I admit the bad taste of these, the 
excess, but the power and the pathos are to me 
indescribably great. And then he has broken 
through the conventional phrases and made the 

1 " The Romaunt of the Page." 


A London Welcome 

French a new language. He has accomplished 
this partly by going back to the old fountains, 
Froissart, etc. Again these old chronicles are 
great books of mine/' 

Mary Russell Mitford's letters written to in- 
timate friends were at all times a true reflection 
of her mind and nature, and it is interesting to 
learn from a passage in her Recollections of a 
Literary Life what her opinion was of the value 
of letters, " provided they are truthful and 
spontaneous/' " Such is the reality and identity 
belonging to letters written at the moment," 
she writes, " and intended only for the eye of a 
favourite friend, that it is probable that any 
genuine series of epistles, were the writer ever 
so little distinguished, would possess the in- 
valuable quality of individuality, a quality 
which so often causes us to linger before an old 
portrait of which we know no more than it is 
a Burgomaster by Rembrandt or a Venetian 
Senator by Titian. The least skilful pen when 
flowing from the fullness of the heart, and un- 
troubled by any misgivings of after publication, 
shall often paint with as faithful and life-like a 
touch as either of these great masters." 

Writing to Miss Barrett of her country 
rambles in the autumn of 1836 she says : " I 
was this afternoon for an hour on Heckfield 
Heath, a common dotted with cottages and a 


Mary Russell Mitford 

large piece of water backed by woody hills ; the 
nearer portion of the ground a forest of oak 
and birch and hawthorn and holly and fern, 
intersected by grassy glades. . . . On an open 
space just large enough for the purpose a 
cricket match was going on, the older people 
sitting on benches, the younger ones lying about 
under the trees ; and a party of boys just seen 
glancing backward and forward in a sunny glade, 
where they were engaged in an equally merry 
and far more noisy game. Well, there we stood, 
Ben and I and Dash, watching and enjoying 
the enjoyments we witnessed. And I thought 
if I had no pecuniary anxiety, if my dear father 
were stronger and our dear friend well 1 I should 
be the happiest creature in the world, so strong 
was the influence of that happy scene/' 

The pecuniary anxiety here referred to had 
been growing greater and greater. The literary 
earnings of the devoted daughter seem to have 
melted away in the father's speculations. At 
last she was urged by her valued friend William 
Harness to apply to Government for a pension 
an application which was strongly supported by 
influential friends. Her petition, dated May, 
1837, t Lord Melbourne concludes with these 
words : "I am emboldened to take this step 

1 Miss Barrett's health was causing much anxiety to her 


A London Welcome 

by the sight of my father's white hairs and the 
certainty that such another winter as the last 
would take from me all power of literary exer- 
tion and send those white hairs with sorrow to 
the grave." 

On the 3ist May Miss Mitford writes to her 
friend Miss Jephson : 

" I cannot suffer one four-and-twenty hours 
to pass, my own dearest Emily, without telling 
you what I am sure will give you so much 
pleasure, that I had to-day an announcement 
from Lord Melbourne of a pension of 100 a 
year. The sum is small, but that cannot be 
considered derogatory, which was the amount 
given by ,Sir Robert Peel to Mrs. Hemans and 
Mrs. Somerville, and it is a great comfort to 
have something to look forward to as a cer- 
tainty, however small, in sickness or old age. 
. . . But the real gratification of this trans- 
action has been the kindness, the warmth of 
heart, the cordiality and the delicacy of every 
human being connected with the circumstances. 
It originated with dear William Harness and 
that most kind and zealous friend, Lady Dacre ; 
and the manner in which it was taken up by 
the Duke of Devonshire, Lord and Lady 
Holland, Lord and Lady Radnor, Lord Palmer- 
ston and many others, some of whom I had 
never even seen, has been such as to make 


Mary Russell Mitford 

this one of the most pleasurable events of my 
life. . . . 

" Is not this very honourable to the kind 
feelings of our aristocracy ? I always knew 
that I had as a writer a strong hold in that 
quarter ; that they turned with disgust from 
the trash called fashionable novels to the 
common life of Miss Austen, the Irish tales of 
Miss Edgeworth, and my humble village stories ; 
but I did not suspect the strong personal in- 
terest which these stories had excited, and I am 
intensely grateful for it." 

Miss Mitford was further cheered in her out- 
look upon life by an offer to edit an important 
publication called Finden's Tableaux, a large 
quarto work illustrated by fine steel engravings 
from the works of the leading artists of the day, 
and handsomely bound in leather elaborately 
ornamented a style then much in vogue. 
She gladly accepted the offer and was soon 
applying to Miss Barrett, her " Sweet Love," 
for a contribution in the shape of a poem. The 
poem was supplied, bearing the title of " A 
Romance of the Ganges," and was followed in 
course of time by many others. 

This offer was followed in September, 1836, 
by a commission from the editors of Chambers' 
Edinburgh Journal. " It is one of the signs of 
the times," writes Miss Mitford, " that a periodi- 


A London Welcome 

cal selling for threepence halfpenny should en- 
gage so high-priced a writer as myself ; but they 
have a circulation of 200,000 or 300,000." This 
was her passing comment on the transaction, 
but it was to be of far more lasting importance 
than she anticipated, resulting as it did in a close 
friendship with William Chambers, and in a 
scheme of collaboration in which she took a 
prominent part. 1 

Mr. William Chambers paid a visit to Three 
Mile Cross in 1847, when he and Miss Mitford 
and the latter's warm friend, Mr. Lovejoy, of 
Reading, talked over a scheme for forming 
Rural Libraries. 

It was on the 3ist March, 1836, that Pickwick 
first made its appearance, electrifying the read- 
ing world. It came out in monthly numbers, 
price one shilling. Of the first number, it seems, 
400 copies were printed, but by the time it had 
reached the fifteenth number no less than 
40,000 were issued ! 

Miss Mitford writes to her friend Miss Jephson 
in June, 1837 : ~ 

" So you never heard of the Pickwick Papers P 
Well! ... It is fun. London life but with- 
out anything unpleasant ; a lady might read it 
all aloud; and it is so graphic, so individual 

1 See Life and Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford, by 
W. J. Roberts. 

z 337 

Mary Russell Mitford 

and so true that you could curtsy to all the 
people as you met them in the street. . . . 
All the boys and girls talk his fun the boys in 
the streets ; and yet they who are of the highest 
taste like it the most. Sir Benjamin Brodie 
takes it to read in his carriage between patient 
and patient, and Lord Denman studies Pickwick 
on the bench whilst the jury are deliberating. 

" Do take some means to borrow the Pickwick 
Papers. It seems like not having heard of 
Hogarth, whom he resembles greatly, except 
that he takes a far more cheerful view, a 
Shakespearian view, of humanity. It is rather 
fragmentary except the trial, which is as com- 
plete and perfect as any bit of comic writing 
in the English language. You must read the 
Pickwick Papers." 



Two new works by Mary Russell Mitford had 
been recently published Belford Regis and 
Country Stones. Belford Regis, as -the reader 
may remember, was her pseudonym for the good 
town of Reading. 

She writes in June, 1835, to Sir William 
Elford : <( I thank you very much, my ever dear 
and kind friend, for your kind letter, and I 
rejoice that you like my book. It has been 
most favourably received and is, I find, reckoned 
my best ; although when one considers that 
Our Village has passed through fourteen large 
editions in England and nearly as many in 
America, one can hardly expect an increase of 
popularity and has only to hope for an equal 
success for any future production." 

There was a still further proof of the popu- 
larity of Our Village at this time, as Miss Mitford 
learnt from a friend travelling in Spain that he 
had come across a copy of the work translated 
into Spanish. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Country Stories appeared two years later. 
She dedicated the work to her valued friend, 
the Rev. William Harness, " whose old heredi- 
tary friendship/' she writes, " has been the 
pride and pleasure of her happiest hours, her 
consolation in the sorrows and her support in 
the difficulties of life." 

It was to him that she opened her heart on 
religious matters more than to anyone else, 
and it is interesting to learn from their corre- 
spondence her opinions upon such matters as 
the question of Church Reform, then beginning 
to be discussed. 

After receiving a volume of Sermons by the 
Rev. William Harness, she writes : 

" It is a very able and conciliatory plea for 
the Church. My opinion (if an insignificant 
woman may presume to give one) is that certain 
reforms ought to be ; that very gross cases of 
pluralities should be abolished . . . that some 
few of the clergy are too rich, and that a great 
many are too poor. But although not holding 
all her doctrines, I heartily agree with you that, 
as an establishment, the Church ought to re- 
main ; for to say nothing of the frightful pre- 
cedent of sweeping away property, which would 
not stop there, the country would be overrun 
with fanatics. . . . But the Church must be 
(as many of her members are) wisely tolerant. 


A Brave Heart 

Bishops must not wage war with theatres, nor 
rectors with a Sunday evening game of cricket." 

Happily reforms in such matters were soon 
to be brought forward by Charles Kingsley and 
many others. Charles Kingsley, when he was 
made Rector of Eversley, was a neighbour of 
Miss Mitford's and became in time her fast 

During the year 1842 Dr. Mitford's health 
rapidly declined and his devoted daughter was 
nearly worn out by her constant attendance 
upon him. He had a strange notion which he 
held pertinaciously that all outdoor exercise 
was bad for her, while, in fact, her short strolls 
in her garden or in the neighbouring fields was 
the only change that could keep her from break- 
ing down. When after some hours spent in 
weary watching she had seen her father fall 
asleep, she would steal out of the house with 
Dash for a companion for a scamper round the 
meadows. " How grateful I am,'* she writes 
at this time, " to that great gracious Providence 
who makes the most intense enjoyment the 
cheapest and the commonest." 

Dr. Mitford died on the nth day of December. 
He was buried by his wife in Shinfield Church, 
being followed by an imposing procession of 
neighbours and friends. We cannot help think- 
ing /that ., this was more to show sympathy and 

Mary Russell Mitford 

respect for Miss Mitford than from special 
respect to him. 

That she loved her father dearly in spite of all 
his faults is very certain, and that she was 
not blind to these faults is also certain. But 
she looked upon them at all times very much in 
the same way as she did when a young girl on 
hearing of his money losses. " Poor Papa ! ' 
she would exclaim, " I am so sorry for him. 
I wish he would deal with honest people." 

A beautiful expression of a dying mother 
to her children has been handed down in our 
family, " Cover each other's faults/' she said, 
" with a mantle of love." Miss Mitford did this 
and perhaps sometimes unwisely, but her life 
was the happier for it. She never knew the 
misery of condemning the conduct of her 

" But her father was not the only person 
whom Miss Mitford egregiously overestimated, 
and unconsciously flattered," writes Mrs. Tindal. 
" She looked upon her friends through rose- 
coloured spectacles, she exaggerated their good 
gifts and multiplied their graces ; she hoped 
and believed great things of them." 

Dr. Mitford had continued to squander the 
small means of the household to the last, and 
so powerless was his daughter to prevent this 
(without giving him great pain) that she re- 


A Brave Heart 

marks in a letter to one with whom she was 
intimate : " I have to provide for expenses 
over which I have no more control than my own 
dog Dash/' 

When the true state of affairs became known 
Miss Mitford was faced with a list of liabilities 
amounting to nearly 1000, but her determina- 
tion was at once taken that all the creditors 
should have complete satisfaction. " Every- 
body shall be paid/' she exclaimed, " if I have 
to sell the gown off my back, or pledge my 
little pension/' 

But this could never be allowed. Her friends 
and admirers were eager to show their desire 
to help one who, by her beautiful writings and 
unselfish life, had done so much for the good of 
humanity. Miss Mitford was astonished and 
touched by the letters she received. " I only 
pray God," she writes, " that I may deserve 
half that has been said of me." 

Money was subscribed on all sides, and by 
the month of March following nearly the whole 
thousand pounds had already been handed 
over to her, whilst in addition to this some 
hundreds of pounds were promised. Many, too, 
were the acts of kind and unostentatious atten- 
tion that were showered upon her and which 
went straight to her heart. Conspicuous among 
these was the welcome act of her friend Mr. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

George Lovejoy, the well-known bookseller of 
Reading, in supplying her with books. He was 
a man of considerable learning, and his library 
was noted from its earliest days for its fine 
collection of foreign works, which made it 
especially valuable to Miss Mitford, whose love 
of French literature was so marked. 

Writing to a friend who had offered to lend 
her some books she explains that she has already 
seen them. " I have at this moment/' she 
writes, " eight sets of books belonging to Mr. 
Lovejoy. I have every periodical within a week, 
often getting them literally the day before 

About this time a source of happiness came 
into Mary Mitford's life in the shape of a little 
child of two years old, the son of her attached 

servant K , whom she soon looked upon as 

a son of the household, and who as time went on 
became her constant little companion in her 
strolls about the country. 

A few years later Mary was suffering from 
an attack of lameness and she had recourse for 
help to that same " historic staff " whose loss 
had caused so much bustle and excitement in 
the village of Three Mile Cross. 

" Long before little Henry could open the 
outer door, there he would stand/' she writes, 
" the stick in one hand, and, if it were summer, 


A Brave Heart 

a flower in the other, waiting for my going out, 
the pretty Saxon boy with his upright figure, 
his golden hair, his eyes like two stars, and his 
bright intelligent smile.'* 

Woodcock lane was a chosen resort where 
Mary, her servant " the hemmer of flowers," 
little Henry and the dogs would proceed to a 
certain green hillock " redolent of wild thyme 
and a thousand fairy flowers, delicious in its 
coolness, its fragrance and its repose." Here 
whilst Mary sat on the turf with pen in hand 
and paper on knee jotting down her thoughts, 
she would still keep an eye on the child who was 
gathering flowers hard by. "Do not gather 
them all, Henry/' she would say, " because 
some one who has not so many pretty flowers 
at home as we have may come this way and 
would like to gather some." 

Miss Mitford's many visitors from far and 
near had all a kindly word for the little lad 
Mr. Fields especially was much interested in 

In the month of January, 1847, when the 
first volume of Modern Painters was just 
published, Mary Mitford wrote to a friend : 
" Have you read an English Graduate's Letters 
on Art P The author, Mr. Ruskin, was here 
last week and is certainly the most charming 
person I have ever known." In her Recollections 


Mary Russell Mitford 

of a Literary Life Miss Mitford speaks with ad- 
miration of his " boldness " in demolishing old 
idols and setting up new! ''Often," she re- 
marks, "he was right, though sometimes wrong, 
but always striking, always eloquent, always 
true to his own convictions. . . . Many passages 
of Modern Painters are really poems in their 
tenderness, their sentiment and their grandeur. 

" But the greatest triumph of Mr. Ruskin," 
she remarks, " is that long series of cloud 
pictures, unparalleled, I suppose, in any lan- 
guage, whether painted or written." Here 
follows a long quotation of which we would 
give two passages. 

"It is a strange thing," writes the author, 
" how little, in general, people know about the 
sky. It is the part of creation in which Nature 
has done more for the sake of pleasing man, 
more for the sole and evident purpose of talking 
to him, and teaching him than in any other of 
his works ; and it is just the part in which we 
least attend to her. . . . The noblest scenes 
of the earth can be seen and known but by few ; 
it is not intended that man should live always 
in the midst of them ; he injures them by his 
presence, he ceases to feel them if he be always 
with them ; but the sky is for all ; bright as it 
is, it is not ' too bright nor good for human 
nature's daily food/ It is fitted in all its 


A Brave Heart 

functions for the perpetual comfort, and exalt- 
ing of the heart, for the soothing it and purifying 
it from its dross and dust." 

The acquaintance with Mr. Ruskin soon 
ripened into a warm friendship, which was the 
cause of much happiness to Miss Mitford during 
the last years of her life. His attentions to her 
when she was unwell were unremitting either 
in the way of interesting books to entertain her 
or of delicacies of the table to tempt her ap- 
petite. On one occasion when she was confined 
to her bed from the effects of a fall, he writes 
to her : " I do indeed sympathize most deeply 
in the sorrow (it may without exaggeration be 
so called) which your present privation must 
cause you, especially coming in the time of 
spring your favourite season. . . . After all 
though your feet are in the stocks, you have the 
Silas spirit, and the doors will open in the mid- 

After an important event in his life had 
occurred in 1848, he writes: "Two months ago 
I was each day on the point of writing to you 
to ask for your sympathy the kindest and 
keenest sympathy that, I think, ever filled 
the breadth and depth of an unselfish heart." 
And then alluding to the Revolution of 1848 
he says : " I should be very happy just now 
but for these wild storm clouds bursting on my 


Mary Russell Mitfbrd 

dear Italy and my fair France. My occupation 
gone and all my earthly treasures . . . perished 
amidst ' the tumult of the people and the 
imagining of vain things/ ... I begin to feel 
that . . . these are not times for watching 
clouds or dreaming over quiet waters, that 
some serious work is to be done, and that the 
time for endurance has come rather than for 
meditation, and for hope rather than for 
happiness. Happy those whose hope, without 
this severe and tearful rending away of all the 
props and stability of earthly enjoyments, 
has been fixed ' where the wicked cease from 
troubling/ Mine has not ; it was based on 
' those pillars of the earth ' which are aston- 
ished at His reproof/' 1 

Mary Mitford continued her intimate corre- 
spondence with Miss Barrett after the latter's 
marriage with Robert Browning which was a 
source of much happiness to both. She warmly 
admired Mrs. Barrett Browning's poems, as we 
have already seen, but Browning's poems were 
not equally intelligible or attractive to her, and 
in a letter to a friend she thus quaintly criticizes 
his style and writing : " I am just reading 
Robert Browning's Poems," she says, " there 
is much more in them than I thought to find. . . . 
He ought to be forced to write journey-work 

1 See Cook's Life of Ruskin. 

A Brave Heart 

for his daily bread (say for the Times) which 
would make him write clearly/' 

In the summer of 1847 Hans Andersen was 
in England. " He is the lion of London this 
year," writes Miss Mitford. " Dukes, princes, 
and ministers are all disputing for an hour of 
his company, and Mr. Boner (his best trans- 
lator) says that he is quite unspoilt, as simple 
as a child and with as much poetry in his every- 
day doings as in his prose. . . . Mr. Boner 
sent me the other day for dear Patty Lovejoy's 
album (she is a sweet little girl of eleven years 
old) an autograph of Spohr's and one of Ander- 
sen's. The latter is so pretty that I must 
transcribe it for you. 

" ( How blue are the mountains ! How blue 
the sea and the sky ! It is the expression of 
love in three different languages. 

H. C. Andersen.' 

London, July i6th, 1847." 

The Mr. Boner alluded to was a valued friend 
of Miss Mitford's with whom she corresponded 
much during the later years of her life. 



WRITING to her American friend Mr. Fields in 
December, 1848, after a sharp attack of illness, 
Miss Mitford says : " But I have many allevia- 
tions [to my sufferings] in the general kindness 
of the neighbourhood, the particular goodness 
of many admirable friends, the affectionate 
attention of a most attached and affectionate 
old servant, and above all in my continued 
interest in books and delight in reading. I love 
poetry and people as well at sixty as I did at 
sixteen, and can never be sufficiently grateful 
to God for having permitted me to retain the 
two joy-giving faculties of admiration and 
sympathy, by which we are enabled to escape 
from the consciousness of our own infirmities 
into the great works of all ages and the joys 
and sorrows of our immediate friends/' Much 
as she loved reading, however, Miss Mitford did 
justice to another source of comfort for women 
that is open to all, namely needle-work, " that 
most effectual sedative, that grand soother and 


Farewell to Three Mile Cross 

composer of woman's distress," as she truly 
styles it. 

" Is American literature," she asks Mr. Fields, 
" rich in native biography ? Just have the 
goodness to mention to me any lives of Ameri- 
cans, whether illustrious or not, that are graphic, 
minute and outspoken. I delight in French 
memoirs and English lives, especially such as 
are either autobiography or made out by diaries 
and letters ; and America, a young country, 
with manners as picturesque and unhackneyed 
as the scenery, ought to be full of such works." 

And again she writes later on : "I have been 
reading the autobiographies of Lamartine and 
Chateaubriand. . . . What strange beings these 
Frenchmen are ! Here is M. de Lamartine at 
sixty, poet, orator, historian and statesman, 
writing the stories of two ladies one of them 
married who died for love of him ! Think if 
Mr. Macaulay should announce himself a lady- 
killer, and put the details not merely into a 
book but into a feuilleton ! ' 

Writing to Mrs. Barrett Browning (then in 
Italy) in March, 1850, she says : " My Country 
Stories are just coming out, to my great con- 
tentment, in the ' Parlour Library ' for a shilling, 
or perhaps ninepence that being the price of 
Miss Austen's novels. I delight in this, and 
have no sympathy with your bemoanings over 

Mary Russell Mitford 

American editions. Think of the American 
editions of my prose. Our Village has been re- 
printed in twenty or thirty places, and Belford 
Regis in almost as many ; and I like it. So do 
you, say what you may." 

And writing to the same friend a year later, 
when Miss Mitford's health was improving, she 
says : " You will wonder to hear that I have 
again taken pen in hand. It reminds me of 
Benedick's speech ' When I said I should die 
a bachelor I never thought to live to be married/ 
but it is our friend Henry Chorley's fault." 
And writing to Mr. Fields on the same subject, 
she says : " After eight years' absolute cessation 
of composition, Henry Chorley, of the Athe- 
naeum, coaxed me last summer into writing for 
a lady's journal which he is editing for Messrs. 
Bradbury & Evans, certain Readings of Poetry, 
old and new, which will, I suppose, form two or 
three separate volumes when collected. . . . 
One pleasure will be the doing what justice I 
can to certain American poets Mr. Whittier, 
for instance, whose ' Massachusetts to Virginia ' 
is amongst the finest things ever written . . . 
and I foresee that day by day our literature will 
become more mingled with rich, bright novelties 
from America, not reflections of European 
brightness but gems all coloured with your own 
skies and woods and waters. . . . 


Farewell to Three Mile Cross 

" I shall cause my book to be immediately 
forwarded to you, but I don't think it will be 
ready for a twelvemonth. There is a good deal 
in it of my own prose, and it takes a wider range 
than usual of poetry, including much that has 
never appeared in any of the specimen books." 

This work ultimately bore the title of Recol- 
lections of a Literary Life. It forms delightful 
reading, for the author has blended with her 
own recollections of the poets or of the places 
they have immortalized many interesting ex- 
periences of her own life given in her best style 
of writing. It is a truly remarkable work when 
we consider how much its author was suffering 
from impaired health during the period of its 

The years 1849-50 were years of sudden 
changes and convulsions in the political world 
of the Continent, and a whiff of the general ex- 
citement penetrated even to little Three Mile 
Cross ! 

Mary Mitford writes to an American friend : 
' We have here one of the Silvio Pellico exiles 
Count Carpinetta whose story is quite a 
romance. He is just returned from Turin, 
where he was received with enthusiasm, might 
have been returned as Deputy for two places, 
and did recover some of his property confis- 
cated years ago by the Austrians. It does one's 
2 A 353 

Mary Russell Mitford 

heart good to see a piece of poetical justice 
transferred to real life/' 

As a rule Miss Mitford's judgment, both of 
books and of character, was singularly sane, 
but there were some exceptions, her admiration 
of Louis Napoleon being one of " her most 
potent crazes/' as a warm friend styled it. 
She believed that his becoming Emperor would 
work much good for France, but had she lived 
long enough to become acquainted with his 
real character and to witness its baleful influ- 
ence upon the nation we feel sure she would have 
changed her opinion. 

Among the many visitors from all parts to 
Three Mile Cross who were desirous to see the 
author of Our Village there was a certain Dr. 
Spencer T. Hall, who had been giving lectures 
on scientific subjects at Reading. He recorded 
his pleasant experiences in an article published 
in a newspaper of the day of which we have a 
copy before us. After describing Miss Mitford's 
cottage by the roadside he goes on to say : "A 
good garden at the back of the house produced 
some of the finest geraniums and strawberries 
in the kingdom ; and with presents of these 
to her London or country friends she could 
gracefully, and to them very agreeably, repay 
their occasional presents of new books and 
game, for no woman stood higher in the estima- 


Farewell to Three Mile Cross 

tion of some of the ' county families ' than did 
that cottage peeress, on whom they continued 
their calls and compliments just as in more 
showy if not more happy days. In a corner at 



" ^ 7#.'^^K.J?- 

to araal$^ 

^ r ^-&^5^BW^i;<^^>^4HBii^ /, :\;-| , 


the end of the garden there was a rustic summer- 
house, and this was where our little party took 
tea, to which the hostess, by her quiet, un- 
affected conversation, added a charm that will 
be more easily understood than I can otherwise 


Mary Russell Mitford 

describe it when I say that it was rich and 
piquant as her village stories or that pleasant 
gossip to be found in the volume she afterwards 
published under the title of Recollections of a 
Literary Life, and with which I trust the whole 
country for its own sake is now familiar/' 

The reader may remember mention being 
made earlier in this work of the wheelwright's 
picturesque workshop in the village of Three 
Mile Cross, which stands at the turn of Church 
Lane near to the village pond. 

Writing to a friend in November, 1850, Mary 
Mitford remarks : " Just now I have been 
much interested in a painting that has been 
going on in the corner of our village street the 
inside of an old wheelwright's shop a large 
barn-like place open to the roof, full of detail, 
with the light admitted through the half of 
hatch doors, and spreading upwards. It is a 
fine subject, and finely treated. The artist is 
one not yet much known of the name of 
Pasmore. ... It is capitally peopled too with 
children picking up chips and watching an old 
man sharpening a saw and peeping in through 
windows, stretching up to look through them." 

For some years past the cottage at Three 
Mile Cross had been gradually getting into 
decay, so that at last Miss Mitford was obliged 
to contemplate a change of abode. " My poor 


Farewell to Three Mile Cross 

cottage is falling about my ears," she writes to 
a friend in April, 1850. V We were compelled 
to move my little pony from his stable to the 
chaise house because there were in the stable 
three large holes big enough for me to escape 
through. Then came a windy night and blew 
the roof from the chaise house, and truly the 
cottage proper, where we two-legged creatures 
dwell, is in little better condition ; the walls 
seem to be mouldering from the bottom, 
crumbling as it were like an old cheese, and 
whether anything can be done with it is doubt- 
ful. Besides which as it belongs to Chancery 
wards there is a further doubt whether the 
master will do what may be done. . . . Yet I 
cling to it to the green lanes to the commons, 
the copses, the old trees every bit of the old 
country. It is only a person brought up in the 
midst ol woods and fields in one country place 
who can understand that strong local attach- 

The move, however, was inevitable, but in 
the meantime a cottage in the neighbourhood 
had been found that would suit Miss Mitford's 
requirements, and thither her chief belongings, 
consisting of a library of some thousands of 
volumes and of much furniture, was carted and 
the removal accomplished in the month of 
September (1851). 


Mary Russell Mitford 

" It was grief to go/' she writes ; " there I 
had toiled and striven and tasted as deeply of 
bitter anxiety, of fear and of hope as often falls 
to the lot of woman. There in the fullness of 
age I had lost those whose love had made my 
home sweet and precious. . . . Friends many 
and kind ; strangers, whose mere names were 
an honour, had come to that bright garden and 
that garden room. There Mr. Justice Talfourd 
had brought the delightful gaiety of his brilliant 
youth, and poor Haydon had talked more vivid 
pictures than he ever painted. The illustrious 
of the last century Mrs. Opie, Miss Porter, 
Mr. Gary had mingled there with poets, still 
in their earliest dawn. It was a heart-tug to 
leave that garden/' 

When she was finishing the last series of stories 
for Our Village, Miss Mitford had addressed 
some lines of farewell to the spot that she loved 
so dearly, and we would give them here. 
" Sorry as I am/' she writes, " to part from a 
locality which has become almost identified 
with myself, this volume must and shall be the 

" Farewell, then, my beloved village ! The 
long straggling street, gay and bright in this 
sunny, windy April morning, full of all imple- 
ments of dirt and noise men, women, children, 
cows, horses, waggons, carts, pigs, dogs, geese 


Farewell to Three Mile Cross 

and chickens, busy, merry, stirring little world, 
farewell ! Farewell to the breezy common, with 
its islands of cottages and cottage gardens, its 
oaken avenues populous with rooks ; its clear 
waters fringed with gorse, where lambs are 
straying ; its cricket ground where children 
already linger, anticipating their summer 
revelry ; its pretty boundary of field and wood- 
land and distant farms ; and latest and best of 
its ornaments, the dear and pleasant mansion 
where dwell the neighbours of neighbours, the 
friends of friends ; farewell to ye all ! Ye will 
easily dispense with me, but what I shall do 
without you I cannot imagine. Mine own dear 
village, farewell ! " 



THE (i flitting " was accomplished in September, 
1851. " I was compelled to move from the 
dear old house/' writes Miss Mitford ; " not 
very far ; not much further than Cowper when 
he migrated from Olney to Weston and with 
quite as happy an effect. 

" I walked from the one cottage to the other 
in an Autumn evening when the vagrant birds 
whose habit of assembling here for their annual 
departure gives, I suppose, its name of Swallow- 
field to the village, were circling and twittering 
over my head. 

" Here I am now in this prettiest village, in 
the snuggest and cosiest of all snug cabins ; a 
trim cottage garden divided by a hawthorn 
hedge from a little field guarded by grand old 
trees ; a cheerful glimpse of the high road in 
front, just to hint that there is such a thing 
as the peopled world; and on either side the 
, woody lanes that form the distinc- 

tive character of English scenery. Very lovely 


is my favourite lane, leading along a gentle 
declivity to the valley of the Loddon, by pastoral 
water meadows studded with willow pollards, 
past picturesque farm-houses and quaint old 
mills, the beautiful river glancing here and 
there like molten silver/' 

Again she writes : " I am charmed with my 
new cottage. ... It stands under the shadow 
of superb old trees, oak and elm, upon a scrap 
of common which catches every breeze and I 
see the coolest of waters from my window. " 

We have visited Swallowfield Cottage, have 
been into its various rooms and have wandered 
about its pretty garden. No wonder that Miss 
Mitford felt it to be a sweet and peaceful home 
to retire to ! The front court is now a pretty 
piece of garden with a small lawn and with 
borders of flowers on either side of the path 
which leads to the front door from the garden 
gate. The house has been enlarged in recent 
years by the addition of a small wing on the 
left-hand side, while two shallow bay-windows 
have also been introduced but it is still a 
cottage in appearance. 

On the right-hand side there still rises the tall 
acacia tree with the syringa bush by its side of 
which Miss Mitford speaks. " So you do not 
write out of doors," she writes to a literary 
friend. " I do, and am writing at this moment 


Mary Russell Mitford 

at a corner of the house under a beautiful acacia 
tree with as many snowy tassels as leaves. It 
is waving its world of fragrance over my head 
mingled with the orange-like odours of a syringa 
bush. I have a love of sweet smells that amounts 
to a passion/' 

The larger garden at the back as well as the 
small front garden are kept up with reverent 
care by their present owner ; so that they seem 
to suggest the presence of their flower-loving 

Wild flowers, too, so dear to. her heart, were 
to be seen just beyond her garden fence. " Have 
you the white wild hyacinth [in your parts] ? ' 
she asks a friend. " It makes a charming variety 
amongst its blue sisters and is amongst the 
purest of white flowers all so pure. A bank 
close to my little field is rich in both. Have you 
fritillaries ? They are beautiful in our water 
meadows, looking like painted glass/' 

Miss Mitford's many friends both English and 
American were soon visiting her in her new 

" I have often been with her/' writes Mr. 
Fields, " among the wooded lanes of her pretty 
country, listening to the nightingales, and on 
such occasions she would discourse so elo- 
quently of the sights and sounds about us that 
her talk seemed to me ' far above singing/ . . . 


-f J 

i. i . ^i*-r ytf- - **O -*lp^ . /M> "*t#- \ tfi-lX 






She knew all the literature of rural life and her 
memory was stored with delightful eulogies of 
forests and meadows. When she repeated or 
read aloud the poetry she loved, her accents 
were ' like flowers' voices, if they could speak/ 

"... One day we drove along the valley of 
the Loddon and she pointed out the Duke of 
Wellington's seat of Strathfieldsaye. . . . But 
the mansion most dear to her in that neigh- 
bourhood was the residence of her tried friends 
the Russells of Swallowfield Park. It is indeed 
a beautiful old place, full of historical and 
literary associations, for there Lord Clarendon 
wrote his story of the Great Rebellion. Miss 
Mitford never ceased to be thankful that her 
declining years were passing in the society of 
such neighbours as the Russells. . . . She fre- 
quently told me that their affectionate kindness 
had helped her over the dark places of life more 
than once, when without their succour she must 
have dropped by the way." 

Among the many friends who hurried to 
Swallowfield to pay their respects to Miss Mit- 
ford was a young writer in whom she was much 
interested James Payn. In his Literary Re- 
collections he calls her " the dear little old lady, 
looking like & venerable fairy, with bright 
sparkling eyes, a clear incisive voice, and a 
laugh that carried you away with it." 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Mary Mitford's mind, in spite of advancing 
years, was ever open to new ideas and new im- 
pressions, so that she gladly hailed the arrival 
of works just published in America. 

She writes to Mr. Fields, who on leaving 
England had proceeded to Italy, to thank him 
for sending her an illustrated edition of Long- 
fellow's Poems together with a copy of the 
Golden Legend : " I hope I shall be only one 
among the multitude who think this the greatest 
and best thing he has done yet, so racy, so 
full of character, of what the French call 
local colour, so in its best and highest sense, 
original. ... Then those charming volumes of 
De Quincey and Sprague and Grace Greenwood, 
and dear Mr. Hawthorne and the two new poets, 
who if also young poets will be fresh glories for 
America. How can I thank you enough for all 
these enjoyments ? I have fallen in with Mr. 
Kingsley, and a most charming person he is ... 
you must know Mr. Kingsley. He is very 
young too, really young, for it is characteristic 
of our ' young poets ' that they generally turn 
out middle-aged and very often elderly." 

And again writing to Mr. Fields she says : 
" I was delighted with Dr. Holmes's poems for 
their individuality. How charming a person 
he must be ! And how truly the portrait re- 
presents the mind, the lofty brow full of thought, 

366 ' 


and the wrinkle of humour in the eye ! (Be- 
tween ourselves I always have a little doubt of 
genius when there is no humour ; certainly in 
the very highest poetry the two go together 
Scott, Shakespeare, Fletcher, Burns.) Another 
charming thing in Dr. Holmes is that every 
succeeding poem is better than the last. . . . 
And I like him all the better for being a phy- 
sician the one truly noble profession. There 
are noble men in all professions, but in medicine 
only are the great mass, almost the whole, 
generous, liberal, self-denying, living to advance 
science and to help mankind. 

" I rejoice to hear of another romance by 
the author of The Scarlet Letter. That is a real 
work of genius/' 

On receiving The House of Seven Gables a little 
later on, she apologizes to Mr. Fields for a delay 
in thanking him for his kind gift saying that 
she delayed doing so until she had read the 
book twice. " At sixty-five," she remarks, 
" life gets too short to allow us to read every 
book once and again ; but it is not so with Mr. 
Hawthorne, the first time one sketches them 
(to borrow Dr. Holmes's excellent word) and 
cannot put them down for the vivid interest ; 
the next one lingers over the beauty with a 
calmer enjoyment. Very beautiful this book 
is ! " 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Later on she writes to Mr. Fields of Whittier : 
" He sent me a charming poem on Burns, full of 
tenderness and humanity and the indulgence 
which the wise and good can so well afford, and 
which only the wisest and best can show to 
their erring brethren/' 

She writes early in January, 1852, of her 
Recollections of a Literary Life : " My book is 
out at last, hurried through the press in a fort- 
night a process which half killed me and has 
left the volumes no doubt full of errata, and 
you, I mean your House, have not got it. I am 
keeping a copy for you personally. People say 
that they like it. I think you will, because it 
will remind you of this pretty country and of 
an old Englishwoman who loves you well/' 

And later on she writes to Mr. Fields : 
" Thank you for telling me about the kind 
American reception of my book. ... I do 
assure you that to be heartily greeted by my 
kinsmen across the Atlantic is very precious 
to me." 

Miss Mitford writes to her friend Mrs. Hoare 
on the subject of Jane Austen's works : " Your 
admiration of Jane Austen is so far from being 
a ' heresy,' that I never met any high literary 
people in my life who did not prefer her to any 
female prose writer. . . . For my own part I 
delight in her." And again writing of truth in 



works of fiction she says : " The greatest fictions 
of the world are the truest. Look at the Vicar 
of Wake field, look at the Simple Story, look at 
Scott, look at Jane Austen, greater because 
truer than all/' In the same letter she re- 
marks : 

" Yes, I ought to have liked Shelley better. 
But I have a love of clearness a perfect 
hatred of all that is vague and obscure and I 
still think with the grand exception of the 'Cenci ' 
and of a few shorter poems, that there was 
rather the making of a great poet, if he had 
been spared, than the actual accomplishment of 
any great work. It was an immense promise/' 

" If you have command of French books/' 
she writes to another friend, " read Saint 
Beuve's Causeries du Lundi charming volumes, 
full of variety and attractive in every way/' 

During the late autumn of 1852 Miss Mitford 
was busy writing an Introduction to a complete 
edition of her Dramatic Works which her 
publishers were preparing to bring out. A 
propos of this undertaking she writes : " For 
my own part I am convinced that without pains 
there will be no really good writing. ... I am 
still so difficult to satisfy that I have written 
a long preface to the Dramatic Works three 
times over, many parts far more than three 

2 B 369 

Mary Russell Mitford 

This Introduction forms very interesting 
reading, giving as it does an account of her own 
experiences, together with many shrewd and 
clever remarks and criticisms. We have quoted 
several passages in our chapters upon the pro- 
duction of the plays. 

The work was dedicated to Mr. Bennock, a 
warm friend and a patron of Art and Letters, 
who had first suggested the idea to the author 
of gathering together all her plays in this way 
and editing them. 

On the 24th December of this same year Miss 
Mitford had a severe accident from an overturn 
of her pony-chaise in Swallowfield Park. She 
was thrown violently down on the hard gravel 
road and was much bruised and shaken although 
no bones were actually broken. In spite of her 
sufferings she indites a letter to her friend Miss 
Jephson in which she says : "I am writing to 
you at this moment with my left arm bound 
tightly to my body and no power of raising 
either foot from the ground. . . . The muscular 
power of the lower limbs seem completely 
gone. ... So much for the bad ; now for the 
consolation. Nobody else was hurt, nobody to 
blame ; the two parts of me that are quite 
uninjured are my head and my right hand. 
K. is safe in bed and Sam is really everything 
in the way of help that a man can be, lifting 



me about, and directing a stupid old nurse and 
a giddy young maid with surprising foresight 
and sagacity. I need not tell you how kind 
everybody is ; poor Lady Russell comes every 
day through mud and rain and wind. . . . 
Everybody comes to me, everybody writes to 
me, everybody sends me books. 

" Mr. Bentley has done me good by giving 
me something to think of in writing no less than 
three pressing applications for a second series 
of Recollections, and, although I am forbidden 
anything like literary composition, and even 
most letter writing, yet it is something to plan 
and consider over. I shall (if it please God to 
grant me health and strength to accomplish this 
object) introduce several chapters on French 
literature, and am at this moment in full chase 
of all Casimir Delavigne's ballads." 

Miss Jephson writes to a mutual friend when 
sending on this letter to him : ' ' Dear Miss Mitf ord ! 
She is like lavender, the sweeter the more it is 
bruised. How wonderful are her spirits and 
energy after such an accident ! . . . I am glad 
she is thinking of a second series of Recollections. 
She cannot be idle ; it would be death to her." 


THE winter of 1852-3 was unusually cold, and 
Miss Mitford suffered much from rheumatism 
supervening upon the effects of her accident. 
For many months she was entirely confined to 
her room. She writes to her friend Mr. Fields 
in March : " Here I am at Easter still a close 
prisoner from the consequences of the accident 
that took place before Christmas. . . . But 
when fine weather warm, genial, sunny weather 
comes I will get down in some way or other, 
and trust myself to that which never hurts 
anyone, the honest open air. Spring, and even 
the approach of spring, has upon me something 
the effect that England has upon you. It sets 
me dreaming I see leafy hedges in my dreams 
and flowery banks, and then I long to make the 
vision a reality/' 

She writes again to Mr. Fields in the month 
of June : "I am in somewhat better trim, 
although the getting out of doors and into the 
pony-chaise, from which Mr. May hoped such 

37 2 

Peaceful Closing Years 

great things, has hardly answered his expecta- 
tions. ... I am still unable to stand or walk 
unless supported by Sam's strong hands. How- 
ever I am in as good spirits as ever, and just at 
this moment most comfortably seated under 
the acacia tree at the corner of my house the 
beautiful acacia, literally loaded with snowy 
chains the flowering trees this summer lilacs, 
laburnums, rhododendrons, azalias have been 
one mass of blossoms, and none as graceful as 
this waving acacia. ... On one side a syringa 
. . . a jar of roses on the table before me 
fresh-gathered roses, the pride of Sam's heart ; 
and little Fanchon at my feet, too idle to eat 
the biscuits with which I am trying to tempt 
her biscuits from Boston, sent to me by Mrs. 
Sparks, whose kindness is really indefatigable, 
and which Fanchon ought to like upon that 
principle if upon no other, but you know her 
laziness of old. Well, that is a picture of 
Swallowfield Cottage at this moment." 

Among the many gifts from admiring readers 
of the Recollections of a Literary Life that 
arrived at Swallowfield were choice plants for 
the garden. No less than twelve climbing roses 
for the front of her house appeared from the 
Hertfordshire nurseries, also two seedlings called 
in honour of her the " Miss Mitford " and the 
" Swallowfield." 


Mary Russell Mitford 

Mary Mitford writes to Mr. Fields : 

" Never, my dear friend, did I expect to like 
so well a man who came in your place as I do 
like Mr. Ticknor. ... It is delightful to hear 
him talk of you, and to feel that sort of elder 
brotherhood which a senior partner must exer- 
cise is in such hands. He was very kind to 
little Harry, and Harry likes him next to you. 
He came here on Saturday with the dear 
Bennocks, and the Kingsleys met him. Mr. 
Hawthorne was to have come but could not 
leave Liverpool so soon, so that is a pleasure 
to come. 

" Mr. Ticknor will tell you -that all is arranged 
for printing with Colburn's successors, Hurst 
and Blackett, two separate works, the plays 
and dramatic scenes forming one, the stories to 
be headed by a long tale, of which I have always 
had the idea in my head to form almost a novel. 
God grant me strength to do myself and my 
publishers justice in that story ! ' 

The title of the new book was Atherton and 
other Stones. They are as fresh and bright in 
style as if the author were in perfect health, and 
yet it was, as she writes to Mr. Fields, " in the 
midst of the terrible cough, which did not 
allow me to lie down in bed, and a weakness 
difficult to describe, that I finished Atherton." 

In her short Preface Miss Mitford mentions 


Peaceful Closing Years 

the adverse circumstances under which the com- 
position had been carried on, and expresses her 
thankfulness to the merciful Providence for 
" enabling me still to live by the mind, and not 
only to enjoy the never-wearying delight of 
reading the thoughts of others, but even to 
light up a sick chamber and brighten a wintry 
sky by recalling the sweet and sunny valley 
which formed one of the most cherished haunts 
of my happier years/' And then she closes this, 
her last work, with the words: "And now, 
gentle reader, health and farewell. 



March) 1854." 

Atherton was dedicated to her valued friend 
Lady Russell, and was published in three 
volumes during the month of April. It was 
also published shortly afterwards in America. 
She writes to Mr. Fields on May 2nd : " Long 
before this time you will, I hope, have received 
the sheets of Atherton. It has met with an 
enthusiastic reception from the English press, 
and certainly the friends who have written to 
me on the subject seem to prefer the tale which 
fills the first volume to anything that I have 
done. I hope you will like it. I am sure you 
will not detect in it the gloom of a sick chamber," 


Mary Russell Mitford 

And writing to an English friend also in May 
she says : " Thank you for your kindness in 
liking Atherton. It has been a great comfort to 
me to find it so indulgently, so very warmly, 
received. Mr. Mudie told Mr. Hurst that the 
demand was so great that he was obliged to 
have four hundred copies in circulation/' 

In this same letter she says : "I am sitting 
now at my open window, not high enough to 
see out, but inhaling the soft summer breezes, 
with an exquisite jar of roses on the window-sill 
and a huge sheaf of fresh-gathered meadow- 
sweet giving its almondy fragrance from out- 
side ; looking on blue sky and green waving 
trees, with a bit of road and some cottages in the 
distance, and [hearing] K -'s little girl's merry 
voice calling Fanchon in the court. . . . An 
avalanche of kindness has come from America, 
where, as in Paris, my book has been reprinted. 
Letters to me or for me addressed through my 
friend Mr. Fields have arrived, I think, from 
almost every man of note in the States Haw- 
thorne, Longfellow, Holmes, etc. etc. And one 
lady, Mrs. Sparkes, wife of Jared Sparks, Presi- 
dent of Harvard University, Cambridge, gravely 
invites me, with man-servant and maid-servant, 
pony and Fanchon, to go and take up my abode 
with them for two or three years, an unlimited 
hospitality which seems to English ears astound- 


Peaceful Closing Years 

ing. Cambridge is close to Boston, where most of 
the literary men of America live, and if I were not 
such a helpless creature really one would be 
tempted to go and thank all these warm-hearted 
people for their extraordinary kindness/' 

And writing in August she says : " I do not 
think there is an authoress of name who has 
not sent me messages full of the kindest interest. 
It is one of the highest mercies by which this 
visitation has been softened that I can still give 
my thoughts and time and love and sympathy, 
not merely to dear friends, but to books and 
flowers and the common doings of this workaday 

A lady friend on one occasion had remon- 
strated with Mary Mitford for what she con- 
sidered a misplaced enthusiasm. " Ah, my dear 
friend ! " she responds, " do not lecture me for 
loving and admiring ! It is the last green branch 
in the old tree, the lingering touch of life and 

A propos of a tendency of hers to extoll at 
times some modern poem that had taken her 
fancy as being superior to the great poems of 
old, Mr. Fields quotes a saying of Pascal's that 
" the heart has reasons that reason does not 
know." " Miss Mitford," he says, " was a 
charming exemplification of this wise saying/' 

During the autumn of 1854 Mary's condition 

Mary Russell Mitford 

had been rapidly growing worse, though her 
letters show that her bright spirit was not 
broken by her continued sufferings and in- 
creased weakness, nor her mind in any way 
clouded. Her last letter to Mr. Fields was 
written on December 23rd, 1854, only eighteen 
days before she died. In it she says : " God 
bless you, my dear friend ! May He send to 
both of you health and happiness and length of 
days and so much of this world's goods as is 
needful to prevent anxiety and insure comfort. 
I have known many rich people in my time, 
and the result has convinced me that with 
great wealth some deep black shadow is as sure 
to walk as it is to follow the bright sunshine. 
So I never pray for more than the blessed enough 
for those whom I love best." 

On January ist, 1855, nine days only before 
her death, she wrote the following letter to a 
friend : "It has pleased Providence to pre- 
serve to me my calmness of mind and clearness 
of intellect, and also my powers of reading by 
day and by night, and which is still more my 
love of poetry and literature, my cheerfulness 
and my enjoyment of little things. This very 
day not only my common pensioners the dear 
robins, but a saucy troop of sparrows and a 
little shining bird of passage whose name I 
forget, have all been pecking at once at their 


Peaceful Closing Years 

tray of bread-crumbs outside the window. 
Poor, pretty things ! How much delight there 
is in these common objects if people would 
learn to enjoy them ; and I really think that 
the feeling for these simple pleasures is in- 
creasing with the increase of education." 

The end came on January loth and was in 
accordance with her sweet life. As she lay with 
her hand in that of her dear friend Lady Russell 
she expired so quietly that the actual moment 
of her departure was not realized. " The 
features of her face in death," we are told, " un- 
disturbed by any trace of the cares and trials 
she had endured, were overspread by an ex- 
pression of intense repose and peace and charity 
such as no living face had ever known." 

In the introduction to her Dramatic Works 
Miss Mitford remarks that she " hopes the plays 
will be as mercifully dealt with as if they were 
published by her executor, and that the hand 
that wrote them were laid in peaceful rest where 
the sun glances through the great elms in the 
beautiful churchyard of Swallowfield." And 
there she lies in the heart of the country she so 
dearly loved and amidst the sights and sounds 
that she most cherished. 

We would close this book with the words of a 
friend and contemporary author who knew Miss 
Mitford well. 


Mary Russell Mitford 

" Pleasant is the memory because happy was 
the life, kindly the nature and genial the heart 
of Mary Russell Mitford. She had her trials 
and she bore them well ; trusting and ever 
faithful to the Nature she loved ; sending forth 
from her poor cottage at Three Mile Cross 
from its leaden casement and narrow door 
floods of light and sunshine that have cheered 
and brightened the uttermost parts of the 


*>. **w .-.. <j 
Al /-%;...- 



Abbey School, Reading, its 
interesting associations, 63- 


Alresford, Hants, birthplace 
of Mary Russell Mitford, 
description of, 1-2 ; Broad 
Street, Dr. Mitford's house 
in, 5 

Andersen, Hans, his visit to 
England, his words in an 
album, 349 

Anning, Mary, an inhabitant 
of Lyme Regis, discovers 
the gigantic fossil bones of 
the Ichthyosaurus, receives 
a visit from the King of 
Saxony, Kenyon's verses 
upon her, 44-46 

Athol, Dowager Duchess of, 
M. R. M. visits her at Aln- 
wick Castle, 1806, descrip- 
tion of, 104-7 

Austen, Jane, M. R. M.'s 
admiration of, 253-255, 

Aynsley, Lord CharlesJMurray, 
son of the Dowager Duchess 
of Athol, visited by M. R. M. 
in Northumberland in 1806, 
103-105 ; receives visit from 
Louis XVIII, in Bocking 
Deanery, in-ii8 

Aynsley, Lady, wife of the 
above, first cousin of Dr. 
Mitford, is visited by 

M. R. M. in Northumber- 
land in 1806, at Little Harle 
Tower, takes her to Aln- 
wick Castle, 103-107 ; de- 
scribes visit from Louis 
XVIII in Bocking Deanery 
in letter to Mrs. Mitford, 

Baillie, Joanna, meets M. R. 
M. in society, 329 

Barrett, Miss Elizabeth. See 
under Mrs. Barrett Brown- 

Bath, M. R. M.'s visit to, 


Belford Regis, by M. R. M., 
published 1835, 339 

Bonar, Charles, translator of 
Hans Andersen's works, 
friend of M. R. M., 349 

Browning, Robert, meets M. 
R. M., 329 ; his marriage, 

Browning, Mrs. Barrett, first 
meets M. R. M. before her 
marriage, 1836, their inter- 
esting correspondence, 330- 
334 ; her marriage, her 
correspondence with M. 
R. M., 348 

Chorley, Henry, meets M. 
R. M. in London, 329 ; 



persuades her to resume 

literary work, 352 
Cobbett, William, friend of 

Dr. Mitford, 126-127 
Country Stories, published 

1835, 339-340 
Cowper, William, his letters, 



Elford, Sir William, his in- 
fluence on M. R. M., their 
interesting correspondence, 
128-133 ; his views upon 
Our Village, 203-205 

Exeter, Bishop of, i 

Fermor, Arabella (the " Be- 
linda " of " The Rape of the 
Lock"), marries Mr. Perkins 
and lives at Ufton Court, 

Fields, James T., American 
publisher and author, de- 
scribes first visit to M. R. 
M. at Three Mile Cross, her 
surroundings and interest- 
ing conversation, 316-319 ; 
M. R. M.'s letters to him, 
350-1 ; describes his visit 
to her at Swallowfield, 
362-365 ; her letters to 
him, 368, 372, 376-378 

Foscari, M. R. M.'s tragedy 
of, performed at Covent 
Garden, 5th November, 
1826, 223-227 


Hall, Dr. Spencer T., his visit 
to Three Mile Cross, 354- 

Harness, Rev. William, valued 
friend of the Mitfords, his 

wise guardianship of a 
bequest of Dr. Russell, his 
views on Dr. Mitford 's 
conduct, 158-159 ; meets 
M. R. M. in London, 329 ; 
M. R. M.'s letter to him on 
Church Reforms, 340-341 

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, pub- 
lication of The Scarlet Letter, 
House of Seven Gables, etc., 
etc., M. R. M.'s interest in 
them, 367 

Hay don, Benjamin Robert, 
his picture the " Judgment 
of Solomon, ' ' becomes friend 
of M. R. M., described by 
M. R. M., 318-319 ; his 
Life by Tom Taylor, 318 

Hemans, Mrs., letter to M. 
R. M., on publication of 
Our Village, 208-209, 220 

Holmes, Dr. (Oliver Wendell), 
M. R. M.'s admiration of 
his poems and personality, 

Howett, Mrs. (Mary), au- 
thoress, letter to M. R. M. 
on Our Village, 321-322 

Howett, William, author, de- 
scribes visit to M. R. M. 
at Three Mile Cross, letter 
to M. R. M., 319-321 


Jephson, Miss, letters to her 
from M. R. M., 335-336, 


Kenyon, John, friend of the 
Mitfords, his lines on Mary 
Anning, 46 ; his words on 
M. R. M. to James T. 
Fields, 316 


Kingsley, Charles, 341 ; de- 
scribed by M. R. M., 366 

Landor, Walter Savage, meets 
M. R. M. in London, 228, 

Landseer, Edwin, offers to 
paint M. R. M.'s dog, 330 

Lansdowne, Lord, proposes 
M. R. M.'s health at meet- 
ing, 137-139 

Longfellow, Henry Wads- 
worth, M. R. M.'s words 
on his poems and the 
Golden Legend, 366 

Louis XVIII and court at 
Gosfield Hall, his visit to 
Bocking Deanery described 
by Lady Charles Aynsley, 
1 10-1 1 8 ; his remarkable 
memory, 136, 137 

Lyme Regis, removal of Mit- 
fords to, in 1795, the Great 
House described by M. R. 
M., its association with the 
Monmouth Rebellion, 29- 


Macready, William Charles, 
takes leading role in Foscari, 

Mitford, Dr., marriage and 
birth of child, 2 ; his 
gambling, loss of fortune, 
starts practice in Reading, 
22, 23 ; removal to Lyme 
Regis, 29-50 ; further 
losses, flight to London to 
debtors' Sanctuary, wins 
prize in lottery, 52-56 ; 
builds Bertram House, 92 ; 
further losses, 139-141 ; 
obliged to leave Bertram 

House, settles at Three 
Mile Cross, 158-162 ; wit- 
nesses performance of Fos- 
cari, 221 ; portrait by 
Lucas, 330 ; illness and 
death, confusion of his 
affairs, 341-343 

Mitford, Mrs., ne'e Russell, 
only child and heiress of 
Dr. Russell, Rector of 
Ashe, marriage with Dr. 
Mitford, birth of her only 
daughter, Mary, in 1787, 
home in Alresford, 2-8 ; 
visits her daughter in Hans 
Place, 72 ; another visit, 
87, 88 ; letter on Louis 
XVIII's visit to Bocking, 
113-118 ; her death, New 
Year's Day, 1830 ; buried 
in Shinfield churchyard , 
her daughter's tribute, 325- 

Mitford, Mary Russell, born 
at Alresford, Hants, Decem- 
ber 1 6th, 1787, 2 ; early 
recollections of her home 
in Broad Street, precocious 
power of reading, 5-8 ; 
their village neighbours, at 
a rustic wedding, 9-21 ; 
removal of family to Read- 
ing, 1791, her early recol- 
lections of the town, 22- 
25 ; a flying visit to Lon- 
don, 25-28 ; removal of 
family to Lyme Regis, 
I 795, her recollections of 
the Great House, etc., 29- 
39 ; rambles on the shore, 
40-44 ; sudden loss of 
fortune, flight to London, 
49-51 ; family takes refuge 
in debtors' Sanctuary, a 
lottery ticket bought, turns 



up a prize, 52-55 ; sent to 
a school in Hans Place, her 
recollections of it, 64-73 ; 
amusing account of old 
French Society, 74-81 ; 
interest in French drama, 
visits to the theatre, great 
actors of the day, Miss 
Rowden's inspiring influ- 
ence, 82-88 ; an incident 
of school life, 88-91 ; leaves 
school, 1802, recollections 
of old Reading, 92-99 ; 
removal of family to Ber- 
tram House, 99-100 ; her 
visit to Northumberland 
with her father, guests of 
Lord and Lady Murray 
Aynsley, visits to Am wick 
Castle, Morpeth and Cheviot 
Hills, returns home, 104- 
109 ; early poems pub- 
lished in 1810 n, success- 
ful, 119-121 ; describes 
performances of " Greek 
tragedies," by Dr. Valpy's 
pupils, 121-123 ; short 
visit to London, 123-125 ; 
writes of Cobbett and Sir 
Francis Burdett, 126-128 ; 
introduced to Sir William 
Elford, becomes his chosen 
correspondent, their inter- 
esting letters, 128-133 >' i n 
London in June, 1814, 
witnesses the assemblage 
of Crowned Heads on the 
fall of Napoleon, sees the 
Duke of Wellington, 134- 
137 ; an ovation to M. R. 
M. at a public meeting, 
I 37~ I 39 ; more loss of 
money owing to her father's 
gambling, 139-140 ; flat- 
tering recognition by 

American publishers, 141- 
143 ; Sir William Elford's 
visit to Bertram House, 
their correspondence re- 
sumed, writes of singers 
and actors of the day, and 
distinguished writers, 144- 
155 ; Hay don's " Judgment 
of Solomon," describes the 
artist, 156-158 ; further 
losses of property, forced 
to quit Bertram House, the 
family settle in Three Mile 
Cross, M. R. M.'s detailed 
account of their cottage 
and the village, 161-178 ; 
describes village scenes, 
and a sunset over the 
Loddon, 182-189 ; The 
Talking Lady, 190-196 ; 
describes her garden, a 
quack doctor, 196-202 ; 
publication of Our Village, 
the opening paragraph, 
letters received about it, 
its early success, 203-211 ; 
Patty's New Hat, 212-217 ; 
a fog in the country, Mrs. 
Heman's words, 217-220 ; 
tries hand at tragedy, 
Foscari and Julian ap- 
proved by Macready, 
Foscari performed at 
Co vent Garden Theatre, 
1826, M. R. M. present 
and describes its success, 
221-229 ; writes Rienzi, 
produced at Drury Lane 
Theatre, its great success, 
M. R. M. in town, letters 
of congratulation, per- 
formed in New York, 
tribute from James Crissy, 
230-240 ; her stories of 
two Emigres neighbours, 



241-249 ; describes visits 
to Southampton, Bath, 
Richmond Park, and 
Hampton Court, 250-259 ; 
writes of Ufton Court and 
its associations, 264-270 ; 
writes of Three Mile Cross 
in 1830, The Black Velvet 
Bag, 271-282 ; stories of 
eccentric neighbours, 283- 
291 ; attends country May- 
ings and visits Silchester, 
292-301 ; a trip to Aber- 
leigh (Arborfield) on the 
Loddon, 302-306 ; stories 
of gipsies, 306-314 ; her 
friendship with James T. 
Fields, his visit to Three 
Mile Cross, also visits from 
William Howett, George 
Ticknor, and Daniel Web- 
ster, 315-325 ; words on 
her mother's death, letter 
to a child, 325-327 ; stays 
with Sergeant Talfourd, 
receives warm welcome 
from leading writers, cor- 
respondence with Miss Bar- 
rett (afterwards Mrs. Bar- 
rett Browning), 328-334 ; 
pecuniary anxieties, re- 
ceives pension, undertakes 
fresh literary work, 334- 

337 ', writes on first ap- 
pearance of Pickwick, 337- 

338 ; publication of Bel- 
ford Regis, and Country 
Stories, Our Village, trans- 
lated into Spanish, 339- 
340 ; writes to William 
Harness on Church re- 
forms, 340-341 ; death of 
her father, 1842, resolves 
to pay all his debts but 
whole sum subscribed by 

2 c 385 

friends, receives constant 
supply of books from Mr. 
George Love joy, little 
Henry, adopted child of 
the family, 34J-345 '> her 
interest in Modern Painters 
and friendship for Ruskm, 
her words on Browning's 
poems, Hans Andersen in 
London, 345-349 ; letters 
to Mr. Fields, Country 
Stories republished, com- 
mencing her Recollections 
of a Literary Life, an 
Italian exile in Three Mile 
Cross, her views on Louis 
Napoleon, receives a visit 
from Dr. Spencer Hall, 
decides to leave Three M le 
Cross, her farewell to the 
village, 350-359 ; settles 
at Swallowfield, describes 
her cottage and garden, 
visits from Mr. Fields, 
Mr. James Payne and 
others, her affection for 
the Russells of Swallow- 
field Park, 360-365 ; her 
interest on works of Long- 
fellow, Hawthorne, O. W. 
Holmes, and Whittier, 366- 
368 ; Recollections of a 
Literary Life published, its 
success in America, her 
admiration of Jane Aus- 
ten's works, her remarks on 
Shelley and on Saint Beuve, 
writes introduction to her 
dramatic works, 368-370 ; 
her severe accident, her 
courage, cheerful letters to 
Mr. Fields, kind attentions 
from far and near, visits 
from Mr. Ticknor, writes 
Atherton and Other Stories, 


dedicated to Lady Russell, 
its great success, 370-376 ; 
her last illness, her delight 
in beauty of nature to the 
end, her last letter to Mr. 
Fields, her death, January 
ist, 1855, buried in Swal- 
lowfield churchyard, 376- 

Molie're, M. R. M.'s early 
delight in his comedies, 

" Monsieur " (Le Conte d' 
Artois) visits Lord and 
Lady Aynsley in Bocking 
Deanery, 114-118 


North, Christopher (John 
Wilson,), his amusing scene 
in the " Noctes Ambrosi- 
anae " upon the publica- 
tion of Our Village, 209- 

Our Village, publication of, 
March, 1824, its success, 
etc. (see under Mary Rus- 
sell Mitford), 203-211 

Pepys (Samuel), M. R. M. 
on his " Memoirs," 153 

Pickwick, publication of, 31 
March, 1836, its great 
success, 337-338 

Pope (Alexander), M. R. 
M.'s early remarks on him 
as a letter writer and poet, 
132-133 ; quotation from 
Rape of the Lock, 258-259 ; 
its heroine Belinda, 260- 


Racine, his " Athalie," 221 

Reading (" Belford Regis "), 
removal of Mitford family 
to, 1791, 22-23 ; M. R. M.'s 
early recollections of, 25, 
56-59, 63-65 ; shopping 
adventures, 271-282 

Recollections of a Literary 
Life, by M. R. M., 352 ; 
published in January, 1852, 
its success in America, 368 

Rienzi, M. R. M.'s tragedy 
of, performed at Drury 
Lane, October 4, 1828, 
232-235 (see under Mary 
Russell Mitford) 

Rowden, Miss, a teacher in 
the school in Hans Place, 
her inspiring influence on 
M. R. M., 68, 85-88 

Russell, Dr., Rector of Ashe, 
his daughter marries Dr. 
Mitford, 2 

Russell, Lady, of Swallow- 
field Park, 365, 371 ; M. 
R. M.'s Atherton dedicated 
to her, 375 

St. Quintin, M., arrival in 
Reading, becomes head of 
Abbey School, marries the 
English teacher, removes 
School to Hans Place, 
London, 1798, M. R. M. 
becomes their pupil, 64- 
68 ; his hospitality to 
emigres, 74-91 

Sedgwick, American author- 
ess, her letters to M. R. M., 
220, 326-327 

Seward, Anna, " Swan of 
Lichfield," M. R. M.'s early 



strictures on her writing, 

Shakespeare, William, M. R. 
M.'s early appreciation of 
Much Ado About Nothing, 


Shelley (Percy Bysshe), M. 
R. M. on his poems, 369 

Sherwood, Mrs. (ne'e Butt), 
sees M. R. M. when a child, 
2 3- 2 5 i ne r recollections of 
Abbey School, Reading, 

Swallowfield, M. R. M. re- 
siding at, 360-380 

Swallowfield Park, abode of 
the Russell family, 365 

Talfourd Sergeant, author of 
Ion, present at perform- 
ance of Foscari, 222-224 
M. R. M. at his house in 
London, interesting society, 


Three Mile Cross, prototype of 
Our Village, description of, 
156-183 (see under Mary 
Russell Mitford) 

Ticknor, George (American 
author and publisher), de- 
scribes visit to M. R. M. at 
Three Mile Cross in 1835, 
323 ; visits her at Swallow- 
field, 374 

Trollope, Mrs. (authoress), 
describes performance of 
Rienzi in New York, 236 


Ufton Court (in Berkshire), 
description of, 260-269 


Valpy, Dr., headmaster of 
Reading Grammar School, 
man of great influence, 62- 
65; introduces acting of 
Greek tragedy in original 
language, described by M. 
R. M., 121-123 

Voltaire, M. R. M. reading 
his tragedies at school, 83 


Walpole (Horace), M. R. M.'s 
admiration for his letters, 
132 ; her words upon him, 


Webster, Daniel (American 
statesman and author), his 
visit to Three Mile Cross 
described by M. R. M., 


Whittier (John Greenleaf), 
M. R. M.'s admiration of 
his " Massachusetts to Vir- 
ginia," 352, and of his 
poem on Burns, 368 

Wordsworth, William, his per- 
sonality described by M. 
R. M., 328-329 

Young, Charles Mayne, per- 
forms leading r61e in Rienzi, 



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5023 Mary Russell Mitford